Rugby Championship

Boks to snatch away Duane?

2012-08-27 12:26
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)
Cape Town – It is going to be mightily interesting to see whether Duane Vermeulen, the loose forward easing his way back to full fitness after long-term injury, continues his match-play rehabilitation in blue and white hoops, or green and gold.

Following the near-disastrous 16-16 outcome for the Springboks in Argentina, with breakdown woes pretty central to shortcomings, the make-up of coach Heyneke Meyer’s loose-forward resources has come under fresh scrutiny.

You have to feel some sympathy for him, however, as a host of injuries – or in some cases unavailability – badly hinder any remedial quest if, indeed, that is what he is genuinely tempted to do now.

Poorly served in Mendoza by an unsubtle, tonnage-obsessed combo of Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Potgieter and Willem Alberts, the Boks clearly need to rebalance their strategy in that area.

But will that simply mean a possible recall to the starting frame for whippet Keegan Daniel, when South Africa next go into Castle Rugby Championship action against similarly wobbling Australia in Perth on September 8?

Meyer was clearly relatively lukewarm about the Sharks man’s debut at No 8 in the prior game against the Pumas at Newlands – suddenly that fairly sterile 27-6 victory looks more like a million dollars – because he promptly relegated him back to the bench for the away leg in what he explained was a horses-for-courses move.

But with that step misfiring even more acutely, a reshuffle is on the cards once more.

The loose forward department traditionally sports an embarrassment of riches for South Africa, but suddenly viable options from outside the current Bok party have narrowed dramatically in recent weeks and months.

Not presently available to bolster things for the Boks are all of Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies, Ryan Kankowski, Heinrich Brussow ... and just the latest casualty is Siya Kolisi, out for the remainder of the Currie Cup season after being part of the broader Bok training group only a fortnight back.

This brings the delicate matter of Vermeulen into focus.

It is believed that, early in his tenure, Meyer had earmarked the big Stormers unit as a very strong contender for a place in his side; he can operate either at No 8 or blindside flank.

But then Vermeulen badly damaged a knee and spent many weeks sidelined.

He has just completed a second, curtailed comeback appearance for Western Province in the Currie Cup, lasting 64 mostly productive minutes against the Lions at Coca-Cola Park.

You could hardly blame WP coach Allister Coetzee, who was more jinxed for loose forward absenteeism than any other coach in Super Rugby this year, for pleading, post-match, that Vermeulen’s recuperation continue at domestic level for the time being, rather than the hurly-burly of Test combat.

But a rival school of thought, given the present Bok conundrum, might well be more inclined to cry: “Your country needs you.”

There must be at least a chance that the national side, then, will make a rapid claim on Vermeulen’s services – if not necessarily for Perth, then for the Dunedin Test against the world champion All Blacks a week later, or the respective home legs to follow.

Certainly if the Nelspruit-born customer (still uncapped for South Africa, remember) stands out on Saturday, in the important Currie Cup match against the in-form Blue Bulls at Newlands (19:10 kickoff) any moves to pluck him away for “national service” may only intensify.

Meanwhile, after initial hopes that specialist open-sider Brussow, who has debatably not been part of Meyer’s early Bok plans anyway, would belatedly start his Currie Cup campaign with a half for the Cheetahs against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday (17:05 start), it seems it could be at least another fortnight before he returns after a knee problem.

If Meyer does desire some fresh options at loose forward, he could do worse than reconsider the claims of experienced, overseas-based players like Joe van Niekerk (Toulon) or Francois Louw (Bath), although such a move is unlikely.

 Domestically, the strong but mobile CJ Stander of the Bulls has made another forceful start to a Currie Cup season after excelling in that environment in 2011 too, but he is Ireland-bound at the end of the campaign which may be regarded as a “complication”.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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