Cape Town - Springbok No 8 and South Africa’s Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, Duane Vermeulen, is in a race against time to be fit for the Rugby World Cup after it was revealed that he has to undergo surgery on a neck injury, but national skipper Jean de Villiers has been cleared to return to action this weekend.
De Villiers, who had a full knee reconstruction towards the end of 2014, is one of six injured players who were given the all clear from the Springbok medical team to be considered for selection against the World XV at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday. The others are Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Lionel Mapoe, Schalk Burger and Lood de Jager.
Although Jan Serfontein (hip and knee) is recovering well from his injury, he will not be considered for selection this week. Furthermore, Scarra Ntubeni and Faf de Klerk are over their ankle niggles from late last week and took full part in training on Monday, while Heinrich Brussow (broken arm) has recovered well, but is still a week or two away from playing.
“Our medical team worked very hard on the injured players and it’s a great positive to see the guys return,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said on Monday.
“I’m especially pleased for Jean. He worked incredibly hard with the Springbok and WP medical teams to get back to match fitness and we’ve got a plan for how we want to manage his return, which could involve matches for his province as well.”
The 29-year-old Vermeulen, who was also the players’ Player of the Year and the Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2014, was sent from the Springbok training camp in Johannesburg to Durban last week to consult with a specialist.
The outcome was that he requires surgery, which will give him the best possible chance to recover in time for the global rugby showpiece in England in September and October. The operation is scheduled for Wednesday.
“This is a huge setback for us, but as with any injury in the game it’s something that we simply have to overcome,” said Meyer.
“Duane is world-class, which was underlined last year when he was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year and nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year Award. He is one of the leaders in our squad and since making his debut in 2012, has become an integral member of the team.
“I really feel very sorry for him as he was hoping to have yet another huge season for the Springboks, but we’ve properly discussed the situation with him and our medical team, and the decision was taken to have the surgery now as it will be the best for him in the long run.
“We do have a number of great loose forwards available for selection, but with Willem Alberts also not available, this will be a good test of our depth.”
Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts said: “Player welfare is very important which is why we made the decision for Duane to undergo surgery. It’s the best option for his medium to long term career options.
“Duane will be put on an intensive post-operation rehabilitation programme within the Springbok setup and we will work tirelessly to get him ready for the World Cup.”
Along from Vermeulen and Alberts, Fourie du Preez, Frans Steyn and Pieter-Steph du Toit are still out with injuries and will not be considered for selection for the next few weeks. Oupa Mohoje and Schalk Brits took knocks and did not complete the training session on Monday. They will be reassessed later in the week.