Vermaak wants Bok jersey back
Cape Town - As the Super Rugby season gets underway, so to does the battle for Springbok places.
While the new Bok coach is yet to be named, the June Tests against Ireland will be the first opportunity for players to stamp their mark on a new era of South African rugby.
Conversation around Bok places will gather momentum as the season progresses, but there is already an intriguing battle in week 1 - Rudy Paige v Jano Vermaak.
Paige will start for the Bulls while Jano Vermaak is expected to be given the Stormers No 9 jersey when the sides meet at Newlands on Saturday in the opening weekend of Super Rugby 2016.
Vermaak moved back to South Africa to join Western Province in July last year from French giants Toulouse, but injury and John Dobson's faith in Nic Groom meant that his opportunities were limited in the 2015 Currie Cup.
Now, under new coach Robbie Fleck, Vermaak looks set to start the season as the Stormers' first-choice scrumhalf.
The 31-year-old concedes that this is a breakthrough year for him, and he acknowledges that Springbok selection is playing on the mind even at this early stage of the season.
"It's definitely at the back of my mind. That's why I came back ... I've just played three Test matches and I want to play a bit more if it's going to be possible," he said.
"That's why I've worked hard on my game and hopefully something can happen for me with the Springboks."
With Fourie du Preez now retired and Ruan Pienaar battling to win over any critics, Paige emerges as the next logical option given that he was the third-choice No 9 behind those two players at last year's World Cup.
Vermaak knows Paige all too well, having worked closely with him during his time at the Bulls between 2011 and 2013.
"Rudy came through last year making his Bok debut so he's going to have a lot of confidence going into the season," said Vermaak.
"He's been in the mix now and he's a good player ... he's always been a good player. When I was at the Bulls he was with me there and I worked hard with him. Seeing him coming through is something special."
Vermaak is expecting a massive tussle against his former team.
"It's always a big one against the Bulls. I don't expect anything other than a physical clash," he said.
Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:15.