Cape Town - The formidable presence of No 8 Duane Vermeulen could be missing from the Springbok arsenal when they play their final Rugby Championship match of the year against the All Blacks at Ellis Park next Saturday, the supersport.com website reports.
As it happened: SA v Australia
Vermeulen left the field late in the second half with a rib injury, and with Schalk Burger having already come onto the field for Teboho Mohoje, that meant that a lock, Victor Matfield, had to take up position on the side of the scrum.
Burger made a massive impact and along with Bismarck du Plessis his energy helped shift the momentum South Africa’s way in the last quarter, and he could easily slot in as the starting No 8 next Saturday.
However, the value of Vermeulen to the Bok cause cannot be underestimated, and his physical presence will be sorely missed if the injury rules him out of the clash with the All Blacks.
Having said that, the way players who have come in as replacements for the Boks this year have stepped up to the plate, the injury could also prove to be a positive if it further increases the depth like has happened in other areas where there have been injuries - such as scrumhalf and centre, where Francois Hougaard and Jan Serfontein were excellent in Cape Town.
“Duane injured his ribs and it is a concern for us as he is one of the leaders in the team and a player who is in great form at present,” said Meyer after the 28-10 win that was clinched by a flurry of 20 points in the last 10 minutes of play.
Wing Bryan Habana suffered suspected concussion in trying to tackle Wallaby centre Tevita Kuridrani as the Aussies were en route to their only try of the match in the first half and could also be doubtful for next week.
JP Pietersen, who did well as a replacement, should slot in easily as a replacement should it be necessary, but Habana’s contribution to the kick and chase aspect of the Bok game will be missed if he is not in the team for Ellis Park.
The Bok win over the Wallabies sent out the message that the fitness, a big area of concern for Meyer at the end of last year, has improved drastically since 2013.
There still isn’t the uniformity in the franchise and provincial conditioning programmes that Meyer would hope for, but his conditioning coach Basil Carzis appears to have done wonders with the national squad.
The Boks effectively outlasted Australia in the Newlands game, with the hosts wearing down their opponents with their ball in hand approach, though there were stages in the middle 40 minutes when they overdid it, became too frenetic, and consequently allowed the Wallabies to get into the game.
The Australians employed a kicking approach at the start, and perhaps it was how poorly they executed it that prompted them to abandon the approach, with the Wallabies kicking more in the first half and the Boks more in the second.
It would have been interesting to see how the game would have gone had the Wallabies persisted with their approach of the first half, but as it turned out it was the Boks who showed the greater control after half-time.
It was the injection of the energy from the bench, coupled with the ability of the 80 minute players in the Bok team to just keep running and keep applying pressure with their multi-phase approach that won it for Jean de Villiers’s team in the end.
“We played great rugby at times in the first half, but their defence was great. We became a bit frustrated because of that, but in the second half the fitness levels and impact from the bench was massive for us, and I told our conditioning coach Basil Carzis as much afterwards,” said Meyer.
“We want to make our country proud and hopefully we managed that. We battled at times, but I have to say that our captain led from the front and came through for us tonight.”
Captain Jean de Villiers wasn’t always in his best form, but he came through in the end with two tries, and afterwards described the game as a personal highlight in his career.
Although next year’s international schedule has not been announced yet, it was in all likelihood De Villiers’s last match at his home ground, and his brace of tries was a fitting way for him to sound off at Newlands.
“I always dreamed of having my kids on the field with me and that was possible today. To finish the test match with a very late try that secured the bonus point which concluded a massive team effort was equally pleasing. This was possibly a top ten test for me,” said the Bok captain.
Meyer also paid special tribute to the Bok bench, with Bismarck du Plessis, Patrick Lambie and Bakkies Botha having all made strong contributions to the period of the game where the Boks turned a close game into an emphatic win.
“They were all huge in their contributions and I have to thank them. It was good to see that my decision to have experience on the bench worked out for us. The team as a whole also refused to give up. They sprinted back to our line after the third try, wanting to get the fourth one, and we managed that. We scored some great tries when we finally broke them down.”