Springboks

Boks: Duane a flank option?

2013-04-17 22:22
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The arm-wrestle between Duane Vermeulen and Pierre Spies for the No 8 jersey could be one of the most intriguing for the Springboks in 2013.

Both are fairly appealing candidates, with certain obvious strengths but also one or two areas of their game where they fall a little short of a renowned, “complete” character in the position like the All Blacks’ Kieran Read.

Indeed, perhaps the ideal counter to Read would be a formidable mix between the two: Vermeulen’s rugged energy at close quarters and more consistently sound defence, allied to Spies’s rare, explosive athletic abilities.

It would be interesting to establish just which of the two seasoned professionals Bok coach Heyneke Meyer regards as the incumbent: is it Vermeulen because he did the job extremely competently on the unbeaten end-of-year tour in 2012?

Or is it the 50-cap Spies, on the grounds that he had been the preferred choice until a finger fracture severely curtailed his year, ruling him out of both the Castle Rugby Championship and the northern hemisphere visit?

It was during the newly-constituted four-nation tournament that Vermeulen first got some regular starts for the Boks, although he was in injury recovery mode of his own at the time and wasn’t at his sharpest until the three-game tour of Ireland the UK.

The Stormers stalwart finished 2012 with a bit of a flourish, earning rave reviews in the London press for his contribution to the desperately narrow 16-15 triumph over England at Twickenham to complete the Bok mini-sweep.

“Ever-present at the breakdown ... a huge reason why South Africa won,” enthused The Guardian, for instance.

But now Bulls captain Spies is back, seemingly refreshed at Super Rugby level in 2013, and both players were part of the enlarged Bok group which took part in a short camp in Cape Town earlier this week.

Meyer was naturally inundated with questions on a variety of Bok players - particularly some of the newer faces - when he conducted a brief media session during the exercise, so the Spies v Vermeulen quandary did not have an opportunity to be
raised.

But it would be fascinating to establish at some point whether the coach has contemplated yet the possibility of fielding both in the start-out loose trio.

For that to happen, Vermeulen’s qualities as a blindside flank could be chewed on: he is a perfectly versatile customer, like many modern loosies, and it was at No 7 where he made many successful appearances for the Stormers or Western Province in his earliest days since signing at Newlands from Free State in 2009.

Schalk Burger was the settled open-sider at the time, with Luke Watson commonly occupying the No 8 berth.

At 116kg and 1.95m, Vermeulen has all the physical attributes to be a forceful international blindsider, and if fielded alongside Spies would offer two really good lineout options at the tail.

There would also probably be plenty of scope for the latter to be more of a free-ranging, potentially game-breaking player away from the tighter exchanges, where Vermeulen and likely open-sider Francois Louw - Meyer again enthused about the Bath-based player this week - would be strong, industrious figures at the breakdown.

Keep in mind that that is an area where Meyer has revealed he will place an aggressive focus this year, as he feels the South African game has fallen just a little off the pace there.

Of course switching Vermeulen to No 7 would put him in conflict with a certain Willem Alberts, who has ongoing qualities and Bok aspirations of his own but is sometimes worryingly injury-prone - shoulder issues seem to resurface a lot - and may be best employed a little more sparingly.

You’d be brave to whisper it too loudly in the vicinity of the Sharks-based “Bone Collector”, but is he perhaps best used for second-half impact purposes off a Bok bench?

Not for one second am I suggesting a Louw-Vermeulen-Spies loose trio is the route Meyer will, or even should, take when South Africa kick off their Test season against Italy in Durban in early June: the country is, as always, blessed with an abundance of candidates in the department.

But it is one option worth debating.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Where would you pick Pierre Spies and Duane Vermeulen in your Springbok team? Would both guys make your starting XV? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  pierre spies  |  duane vermeulen  |  rugby
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