Duane Vermeulen is at the peak of his powers rather than the twilight of his career, writes former Bok scrumhalf NEIL DE KOCK.
The second Test between South Africa and England in Bloemfontein was a feisty encounter borne out of desperation from both sides to attain a positive result and influence the outcome of the series. It was a carbon copy of the first Test in how it began, with the visitors enjoying an early lead.
The Springboks’ resilience to fight back from a sizeable deficit, coupled with poor discipline and an uncharacteristically large penalty count for England, ensured that South Africa secured an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
In terms of the penalty count, England conceded more than double the number of penalties as their hosts over two Tests, which is unreal really. Skill errors are one thing, but when discipline errors creep into your game, you have to draw the line because that is what costs you Test matches.
It seems as though the English players are trying too hard to sort things out on their own, instead of sticking to what they had done so well for 25 Tests.
Eddie Jones is under the pump after five consecutive Test defeats. However, he is used to pressure at international level and has been through similar situations. Owing to his experience and knowledge of the game, I believe he remains the right man for the England job. If someone knows how to get out of a rut, it’s Eddie. He will be firm in the belief that he can turn things around, and the RFU will do well to stick with the Australian mentor.
By and large, I’m glad rugby has held true in terms of backing the coaches they put in charge and seeing out the process. The way managers are hired and fired in football is not to my liking. I hope rugby continues to distance itself in that regard.
In contrast to Jones, Rassie Erasmus finds himself in a great position. He has the luxury of making some personnel changes for the Test in Cape Town having wrapped up the series. The third Test provides a good opportunity to test a few positions, but Rassie will want to finish the series on a high note – with a 3-0 whitewash – and maintain the momentum heading into the Rugby Championship.
While I’m all for blooding fresh players, Vermeulen has underlined the value of an experienced campaigner. He is lending his experience, but also performing head and shoulders above the rest in his position. He is a world-class player and it’s wonderful to see how he has enhanced the Springbok cause. The try he scored, where he bumped off a handful of would-be England defenders, was the injection the Springboks needed at a time when they were trailing in the match.
Vermeulen boasts the ability to get South Africa on the front foot and is by no means at the twilight of his career. He is only 31 and, for me, he is at the peak of his powers.
The fact that Vermeulen may miss the Rugby Championship campaign, owing to his commitments in Japan’s Top League, isn’t ideal. However, SA Rugby must do everything in its power to look after a player of his worth because the Springboks need him going forward. He can add real value with the 2019 World Cup in mind.
In terms of Saturday’s Test potentially proving the last at Newlands, all good things must come to an end. Newlands Stadium has a very special place in my heart and is one of the most iconic venues in world rugby. However, time moves on.
Cape Town Stadium has much to offer in terms of a spectator-friendly venue. We have seen the success of the World Rugby Sevens Series at the latter venue and, if Test matches in Cape Town are hosted in Green Point, it would kick-start a bold new era.
It would be sad to wave goodbye to Newlands, but equally exciting to embrace a new beginning.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images