As one of the few players who has consistently fired this domestic season, Duane Vermeulen’s status in the game only continues to grow, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
During a recent virtual media briefing, Rassie Erasmus rattled off a player list that highlighted how a host of World Cup-winning Springboks had played little to no rugby since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019.
The likes of Handre Pollard, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Makazole Mapimpi, Malcolm Marx, RG Snyman and Lood de Jager have barely played, and the list goes on and on. It’s the reason the Springboks ultimately opted out of the 2020 Rugby Championship due to player-welfare concerns.
Even those who have been able to get some rugby under the belt have endured regular disruptions due to injuries, competition changes or Covid-19-related setbacks.
In short, there have been very few stars from Japan who have been shooting the lights out due to a variety of reasons, while the new-look domestic season has been a stop-start affair filled with inconsistency.
Yet, when reviewing the past few months of action, there are a handful of players who have enhanced their reputations, and Vermeulen stands chief among them.
Even at 34 years of age, the powerful No 8 has been a colossal performer for the Vodacom Bulls as they’ve powered to the Super Rugby Unlocked title and through to the Currie Cup final.
For coach Jake White, Vermeulen’s influence has been so integral to the team’s cause that there is little doubt that his name is the first one automatically included on the team sheet.
As a player, Vermeulen has been physical and fearsome as a ball-carrier and on defence, while remaining typically influential at the breakdown. As a leader, he has also embraced the captaincy, and just this past Saturday was credited for the manner in which he inspired his teammates when the pressure came on in the second half of the first Currie Cup semi-final.
‘He was actually operating on another level,’ White commented. ‘And that’s what you want, you want your best players to perform in these crunch games, you want them delivering their best and Duane was one of them,’ he added.
Taking a wider view, it has to be appreciated that Vermeulen is operating at these levels some 16 years after he first came on to the professional scene as a fresh-faced youngster playing for the Pumas.
His career has taken him around the world and to many different teams, but since his consistent return to the Springbok set-up from 2018, he has been a man possessed.
The burly No 8 was one of the standout players throughout the 2019 World Cup, claimed man-of-the-match honours in the final, and would be a sure selection in any World XV.
Considering his current quality of play, there is little doubt that he has at least another couple of years of rugby left in him at the highest level, and his sights are still firmly set on playing his part in the British & Irish Lions series.
Could he even get to another World Cup in some capacity? He may need to ask Schalk Brits.
What is more certain, though, is that if he stays fit and in form, there is every chance that when Vermeulen eventually does opt to hang up his boots, he will be remembered as one of South African rugby’s all-time greats.