Duane Vermeulen says he is so grateful to be back home with his family after desperately returning just in time before South Africa went into lockdown.
At the end of March, it was finally confirmed by the Japan Rugby Football Union that the remainder of the Top League season had been cancelled due to Covid-19, finally allowing players the opportunity to head home.
However, as Vermeulen revealed on social media, he and several others had more problems when they arrived at the airport and found that their flight was cancelled.
Yet, as the World Cup winner explains, there was one thought that kept him going – getting back to his family.
Vermeulen was then sent a message by a South African who he had met by chance, Alizane van der Merwe, who let him know about an Ethiopian Airlines flight to South Africa, and finally he managed to get himself a ticket home.
Vermeulen made it back to his wife, Ezél, and two boys with hours to spare on Thursday afternoon before South Africa went into a 21-day lockdown. Like every South African, the Springbok eighthman has no definitive answers about a world of uncertainty that lies ahead. Except the thought that brought him home.
‘Stick with your family. Nobody knows how long this thing can take. At times like this it’s more important to stick with your family than to be thinking of anything else. Family is the most important right now,’ said Vermeulen in an exclusive interview with Vodacom.
‘I’ve been away for a couple of years now and missed a lot of things in my family with my two boys growing up and at school and what they’ve achieved up until now. It’s important to sit and look back and say this is a crucial time for me to stick with my family, and build even stronger relationships with them.
‘It’s good for me to connect with my two boys. We play in the backyard, and I can help my boys with their cricket and rugby. We’re trying to make the best of a really crap situation.’
With two energetic young boys, there’s no time for Netflix binges or PlayStation sessions in the Vermeulen household.
‘During the day we try to keep the TV off. I don’t like to keep it on otherwise the kids will just sit there. We have a few house rules like that. We play Lego or build a puzzle or play outside in the garden. Every morning the kids have a plan about what they want to do, and I’m happy to take it as it comes.
‘Sometimes we’ll pitch a tent in the backyard and sleep in a tent for the night. I’ve also been braaiing pretty much every night. Living in Japan, you can’t really braai. So my fire has been going every night, and I’m loving being home in that sense.’
And he’s even thrown himself into some DIY tasks.
‘I arrived home on the Thursday afternoon, and that Friday was day one of the lockdown. I woke up on Friday morning and I walked around the back garden and saw water streaming out of my borehole pump. I asked my wife if it should be like this?
‘She said yes and that there was a guy who did our irrigation and they’re sorting out a new filtration system for the borehole for our tanks. But I thought this can’t be right. So I opened up the pump and I saw the O-ring seal was broken. I opened my swimming pool pump, took an O-ring seal from there, and I fixed it.’
When life does return to normal and world sport kicks into gear again, Vermeulen is looking forward to returning to the Vodacom Bulls.
‘I had a fantastic time with the Vodacom Bulls and I enjoyed it so much. I know there are a few players who’ve left the team, but there are a lot of youngsters in the squad with great potential. I’m really looking forward to coming back, and I think I can still contribute.’
Vermeulen says the late cancellation of Japan’s Top League, where he was playing for the Kubota Spears, means he went into the lockdown still in very good shape.
‘Japan wasn’t in as much of a lockdown as the rest of the world, so we kept up our training there. We did a lot of one-on-one work and worked on some smaller details which you don’t always get time for in a normal season. I helped a lot of Japanese players with the breakdown and so on, and we trained a lot until quite late before the cancellation of the league. I’m also getting an air bike and some weights delivered to my house, just for a quick 20-30 minute flush to keep moving.’
And there are also poolside push-ups with his two boys to keep South Africa’s World Cup-winning loose forward in top shape.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) April 2, 2020