Cape Town – Almost constantly influential, almost always a
key “presence” ... aren’t those qualities you’d desire pretty strongly from a
player if you were a Test rugby coach?
Heyneke Meyer got them virtually unfailingly this season
from his No 8, Duane Vermeulen: he is thus the www.Sport24.co.za choice as Springbok Player of the Year.
The list of candidates was strong for 2013, as you’d expect from
a team who outfoxed all comers barring the mighty All Blacks and established
themselves beyond all doubt as next best in the world – a healthy development
which so clearly indicated their upward curve in Meyer’s second campaign at the
SARU have just about got it right, too, in the five nominees
for their own Rugby Player of the Year laurel, featuring Vermeulen, captain
Jean de Villiers, IRB nominee for International Player of the Year Eben
Etzebeth, Willie le Roux and Bismarck du Plessis.
To this writer’s mind, Etzebeth, who only proved that his
2012 debut season in Tests was no flash in the pan, the fabulously untiring De
Villiers – who is also building a sound aura and respect around the planet for
his leadership skills on and off the park – and slippery, utterly refreshing
back-three injection Le Roux ran Vermeulen closest in our exercise.
Du Plessis remains a classy, in-your-face figure at hooker,
of course, although his lineout game experienced a bit of late-season woe and,
even if he was done such an appalling refereeing injustice in the away match
against New Zealand, his discipline can sometimes remain on the edge of a
The same applied to another player who might have otherwise
come into contention for that SARU shortlist, Francois Louw ... the Bath-based
open-side flank blotted his copybook with two silly, rather uncharacteristic
yellow-card indiscretions for foul play on the otherwise triumphant European
tour very recently.
But we are also very comfortable with our own final choice
of Vermeulen, the 27-year-old from Nelspruit who was a fairly late starter in
Test rugby last year after having to fight his way to recognition by his
country following a series of serious and untimely injuries.
The gods have generally smiled on him much more in the
second half of 2013 in that respect, after he took full, inspiring advantage of
Pierre Spies’s own season-ending mishap in the June window period.
Frankly, the Bulls
captain is going to have his work seriously cut out to regain his starting
berth at No 8 in 2014, even if he will always have one obvious edge over
Vermeulen: in pure, explosive athletic ability and pace off the mark.
Virtually every other box in a No 8’s expected armoury is
ticked more compellingly by Vermeulen at present, including the very major
consideration of sheer, unflagging work-rate and muscular commitment.
Nor is it as though he has made no significant attempt to
get as close as possible to Spies for ability to turn on the gas or explode
through gaps or half-gaps – if anything, Vermeulen will have surprised some
critics this year with the new attacking dimensions he has brought to the
Who can forget, after all, his inspired break to set up
Bryan Habana for his first try in the Ellis Park rollercoaster ride against the
On that day, Vermeulen went spiritedly toe to toe with
opposite number Kieran Read, who will be runaway favourite for World Player of
the Year, suggesting that – in line with the situation between the two teams –
the Bok customer may feasibly be second only now to Read in the pecking order
in his position globally.
His lineout play is out of the top drawer (perhaps the Boks
could even target him more often as a source of secure ball?) and his pilfering
skills have soared as well.
Virtually throughout the 2013 campaign, we have run Bok
player performance ratings out of 10, and a memory-stirring flick through that
notebook indicates that Vermeulen was seldom delivering at below eight, and
sometimes even a half-notch or so more.
He has upped his ability to do “special” things in the heat
of combat, like the great steal he made off Quade Cooper to set up Willie le
Roux’s bonus point try in the memorable, bogey-breaking 38-12 grilling of the
Wallabies in Brisbane.
On that day, www.espnscrum.com
described the Bok loose forward as “just a colossus” against the humbled home
Vermeulen is also now one of the Bok pack members less
likely than most to take a single inch backwards when the going gets heated,
yet he is an enforcer who largely manages to stay pleasingly just within the
bounds of the law book.
What do readers think of our pick?
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing