Cape Town - The omission of Duane
Vermeulen, tailor-made for European conditions, from the Springbok end-of-year
tour raises at least two uncomfortable possibilities.
One is naturally that the Boks, deprived of
his formidable “go-forward” potential on the slow pitches during November, will
feel it and come to rue it in the successive Tests against England, Italy and
Another is the inevitable speculation that
may arise now that the uncompromising 30-year-old - one of few proven
world-class competitors in the iffy, transitional South African landscape - is
seeing a door progressively creak shut on him at international level after only
37 Test matches.
Vermeulen began his Test career later than
many critics would have liked in 2012: the danger exists, it seems, that it
could also end with premature haste.
It is true that the former Stormers No 8
underwhelmed, an unusual hallmark for him, in two appearances in the tense June
series against Ireland.
But that was also roughly at completion of
his gruelling northern hemisphere season with Toulon, when he would have been
prey to fatigue and also gave the impression that he was carrying a niggle or
He later picked up a serious knee injury
with the French outfit and only recently returned to competitive action - that,
though, seemed a fairly reassuring precursor to a crack at returning to past,
blood-and-thunder standards by him in the green and gold jersey over the next
The official line spun when national coach
Allister Coetzee unveiled his squad of 33 on Saturday for the main portion of the
tour - after the Barbarians “warm-up” opportunity with an experimental group
outside the international window on November 5 - was that Vermeulen’s
conditioning “after discussions” was not deemed up to Test standard since his
return from the injured list in France.
Also, the anticipated birth of his second
child during the period had been taken into account.
It is possible I am reading more into
Vermeulen’s non-selection than is justified, but after sufficient speculation
in the SA media that his known qualities would be too attractive to overlook,
his eventual cold-shouldering somehow appears not unattached to his slightly
bleak, dissident take on the state of the Bok game after the Durban thrashing
from the All Blacks recently.
The 115kg ironman was quoted as saying he
couldn’t “see a positive outcome” to the national team’s troubles soon, and
that they needed a tangible “intervention”.
He also sounded suitably cynical about the
much-publicised Springbok Indaba in Cape Town earlier this week, questioning
whether it would achieve its objectives.
Has Vermeulen reached a position where he
is regarded in the same dim light as Frans Steyn, the single-minded utility
back and RWC 2007 winner who has had several brushes with SARU/Springbok bosses
and hasn’t been seen in Test colours since Dunedin (against New Zealand) in
Still only 29, the burly, mercurial
backline character has - almost needless to say - again been overlooked for
this particular tour to remain on 53 dust-gathering caps.
Even if at less than optimal fitness,
Vermeulen would quite feasibly have been able to give the Boks, who have
struggled for sustained front-foot status all season, 40 or 50 minutes of
invaluable grunt in key clashes on the venture - Twickenham on November 12 is
the blue-chip game - before making way for some speedier, probably much lighter
limbs off the bench.
He is also a “fetching” ace in his unique,
tough-wrestling manner at breakdowns and South Africa are not too mightily
served with specialist open-side flankers right now, given the injury-enforced
absence of Bath’s Francois Louw.
Jaco Kriel is likely to assume the No 6
jersey for the Tests, but he is more renowned for his run-around exploits in
open play, whilst there is a complete rookie back-up poacher now in the shape
of the Blue Bulls’ Roelof Smit – at least the latter is content to ply his
trade mostly at close quarters.
No Vermeulen also means the Boks are
notably short on specialist No 8s, with only the rangy Warren Whiteley to
summon if they want a player wholly familiar to the role there.
Lions skipper Whiteley is an industrious
tackler and linking, running factor but it is more difficult for him to batter
holes or commit defenders via brute strength, an area Vermeulen specialises in.
Still, if the Boks happen to run into a
quagmire somewhere along the line and it is felt heavyweight ballast is best
required in their starting eighthman, then versatile Willem “Bone Collector”
Alberts is worth considering, even if blindside flank is generally his best
It’s difficult to escape a feeling that the
happiest people about Vermeulen’s no-go on the Euro winter adventure, however,
will be the playing and coaching personnel of the English, Italian and Welsh
national teams ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing