Surgery for Vermeulen, faces race against time

Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen requires surgery for the ankle injury suffered while in action for the Bulls on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

Vermeulen hobbled from the field in the first half of last Friday’s match between the Bulls and Stormers after he was caught awkwardly in a tackle, and has reliably learned that the injury will require the World Cup star to go under the knife.

Having travelled to Cape Town and undergone scans, the severity of the injury was confirmed, with Vermeulen set for several weeks on the sidelines.

With the first Test taking place on 23 July, Vermeulen has less than seven weeks to recover if he hopes to fulfil a career goal of facing the Lions as a Springbok.

Some 12 years ago, the back rower was a member of the Emerging Springboks side that drew with the Lions, while he also featured against them in the colours of Western Province.

As it stands, the Springboks do have cover at No 8 in Jasper Wiese and Dan du Preez, who were included in the 46-man squad this past Saturday, but it would also stand to reason that Marcell Coetzee could be in line for a call-up should the need arise.

Following Saturday’s squad announcement, both Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber made it clear that there was some strategic thinking at play, with both highlighting the importance of Coetzee banking some more game time after also recently recovering from a long-term injury.

It would make most sense for Coetzee to remain with the Bulls and gain some more game time in this weekend’s final round of Rainbow Cup SA, while he could also be made available for the final on 19 June in Treviso should the Pretoria-based side progress to that title decider.

At the moment, members of the Bok squad are in camp in chilly Bloemfontein, where training and preparation are intensifying for the Lions series.

However, it would make sense for the Springboks to make best use of the home-ground advantage that a tour in South Africa has afforded by allowing some players – such as Coetzee – who are in need of game time to remain with their franchises.

‘The most important thing for us to understand, the provincial teams that play against the British & Irish Lions will have to go into a bubble for 10 days prior to their games. So, if we send a player to one of those teams, he is 10 days away from us, so that will be a disruption,’ Erasmus explained on Saturday night.

‘On the other hand, for us to draft a player in, it is actually only one day. So if we get an injury, a player can travel the next day if he has a negative Covid-19 test result and he can join us the following day.

‘That’s why we are keeping the squad as 46 players until the first British & Irish Lions Test. Some of the guys, like Marcell Coetzee, might be very disappointed. But there is strategic thinking in getting them more game time, because some of them are coming back from long-term injuries.’

So, the next week or so could well be multifaceted for the Boks as they wait for Vermeulen’s post-op assessments and recovery timelines, while also keep a close eye on someone like Coetzee, who will have added incentive when facing up against his old team, the Sharks, this weekend.

READ: How Bok duo were injured in fire-pit incident

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Dylan Jack