Duane tips his hat to Gray

2014-06-17 21:04
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)

Mbombela - Fullback Willie le Roux grabbed all the headlines, but the real catalyst for the much improved Springbok showing in the first Test against Wales in Durban last weekend was the speed with which the hosts were able to get back quick ball to attack with.

According to the supersport.com website, coach Heyneke Meyer had said after the win over the World XV that started the international year for the Boks in Cape Town the previous week that the breakdown work had been the main contributing factor to it not being a perfect performance.

The scrum did battle and it was well documented afterwards, but it for much of the game the ball just wasn’t coming back from the recycles quickly enough and that impacted on the South African attacking game.

"I know when we get quick ball how dangerous we are and that is what we are going to have to work at this week," said Meyer after Newlands.

Openside flanker Francois Louw also pointed to the breakdown work as requiring improvement, something he put down at the time to adjustment to northern hemisphere refereeing interpretations as well as being a yard off the pace when it came to the intensity with which the breakdowns were approached.

Louw said it would be better and he delivered on his promise, with both his work in turning over Welsh ball and in facilitating the presentation of quick ball for the backs being so outstanding that on another day, in other words when Le Roux wasn’t stealing the show, he could well have been man of the match.

But another big contributor on the day was No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who was also probably the best Bok loose-forward against the World XV the previous week and appears to have run into form at the right time if you consider he played a couple of consecutive strong games for the Stormers before the break from Super Rugby.

Vermeulen, who is back in the city where he was brought up for Saturday’s second Test against the Welsh at the Mbombela Stadium, was the catalyst for a Bok turn-around nearly two seasons ago when he and former Stormers teammate Louw started to play together and play to the ball during the 2012 Rugby Championship.

After this past weekend he believes there is still some work to be done on the breakdown, but agreed that there was a massive step forward from the previous week.

"We worked very hard on the breakdown last week, and Richie Gray has made a massive impact, his contribution has been really important," said Vermeulen.

Gray is the Scotsman who was brought in by Meyer as a breakdown specialist this time last year.

Initially his was a short term contract, but after a successful year with the Boks he was awarded a continuation after the win over France that brought 2013 to an end.

And reading between the lines of what the big No 8 said at a press conference at the Mbombela Stadium on Tuesday, those who criticised Ruan Pienaar for a pedestrian performance against the World XV may have been unfair on the starting scrumhalf.

Fourie du Preez did definitely bring more incisiveness and zip to the Boks from the base in Durban, but he would have been helped by technical accuracy from the forwards that may not have been there at Newlands.

"Richie sat down with us and worked out the way we should present the ball to our No 9 and to the cleaners, meaning the first and second arrival," said Vermeulen.

"It still wasn’t perfect and we will need to work on it more.

"It definitely remains one of the things that requires attention building up to the second Test.

"As a pack we were great in the first half at Kings Park and we set a good platform.

"But in the second half the Welsh were very effective in spoiling our ball and that is something we are going to have to be aware of and find a way of getting around because they are sure to take the same mindset onto the field in this game."

Vermeulen said it was a special feeling being back in his old home town and was pleased to be greeted by, among others, his grandmother when the squad arrived to a rousing welcome when they landed in Nelspruit on Sunday.

"I wouldn’t say I am nervous but it is good to be here as I have fond memories, particularly of my school days, and I know a lot of the people here," he said.

Vermeulen did not play when the Boks were here last year to play Scotland as he was out injured and it will be his first appearance at the stadium in a Springbok jersey.

"It is good to know there is a lot of support and that the people are coming out to support the team."

Although Pierre Spies, who last played for the Boks this time last year, has been out injured for most of the time that Vermeulen has been ensconced at No 8, the Stormers play is now recognised as an established member of the team and one who the rest of the players rely on.

However, he said he never took his place in the side for granted.

"There is truth in the saying that it is easier to get here than to stay here, but I don’t really look at it like that.

"My approach is to absorb myself in the team aim, be it 15 players or 23, and it that goal is reached then everything else takes care of itself," he said.


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