Duane: Our Bok player of year

2013-11-27 14:00
Duane Vermeulen (AFP)

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 tiller.

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 precipice.

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 party.

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 All Blacks?

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 side.

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

Read more on:    springboks  |  duane vermeulen  |  rugby


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