Indisputable! Vermeulen RWC 2019 ‘must have’

2018-06-12 13:01
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)

Cape Town – Anyone still wondering whether Duane Vermeulen should form part of the Springbok squad for the 2019 World Cup?

I’d go a lot further: he is highly likely to be a pivotal member of the starting XV for the most critical, demanding dates at the Japan-staged event late next year.

Vermeulen’s ceaselessly ton-of-bricks performance - only underlining that he’s still got such a willing, durable diesel engine, too - played a massive role in manufacturing the 42-39 triumph in the first Test against England at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

The tourists so clearly did everything they could to try to “bully” an otherwise new-look Bok XV in several senses, including using the hefty Vunipolas - front-ranker Mako and Vermeulen’s direct rival at No 8 Billy - to make yardage and produce big hits.

But they ran into at least one resilient wall-like creature, with tons of bite-back of its own, in the shape of the near 32-year-old South African loosie, earning his 40th cap for the Boks.

Even in the early peril and relative organisational chaos the home side found themselves in, Vermeulen looked a contrasting bastion of calm, constructive energy for the Springboks.

He was comfortably the first home player, I felt, to effectively announce: “Hey, we want this too”.

The temporarily now “jobless”, it seems, former Toulon-based star ended up being, at least according to the stats I saw, the most prolific carrier on the park during the dramatic Test, as well as the Boks’ most effective breakdown factor (including at least two clear steals), a bastion of assurance in fielding high balls, and among the steeliest of SA tacklers.

Add in the effectiveness of his lineout game - almost always a key hallmark - and you might say the Boks had a Richie McCaw, John Eales, Israel Folau and Martin Johnson all rolled into one.

While not everyone agreed, I had Vermeulen at the top of my broadly very healthy Bok player ratings list from Ellis Park.

It was crystal-clear confirmation, nevertheless, that he remains an indispensable presence for the RWC 2019 campaign, a genuine “aura” presence against any foes when he presents his A-game as he did in Jo’burg.

But what about when Warren Whiteley returns?

That will understandably be a question on many observers’ lips - especially given news that his return to Super Rugby action with the Lions is finally imminent.

On present form, Vermeulen would be extremely hard to dislodge from the No 8 shirt, and there is probably no other loose forward role that really suits Whiteley at international level if he is to get back into the Bok starting line-up (quite possibly still as captain, too).

They are very different styles of players, and with notably different physiques and attributes.

But to me the answer is pretty simple, assuming Whiteley finds his own best form again and is considered a creative, athletic sort of fit as Bok eighth-man by coach Rassie Erasmus: shift the rugged “Thor” seamlessly to blindside flank.

He is hardly less suited to that task than he is to No 8, as evidenced by reasonably generous phases of his earlier, first-class career (including initial days in the Stormers fold) where he fulfilled the task with aplomb.

The time may come, and well before the World Cup, where Erasmus -- who has indicated that he will not be shy to experiment for bigger-picture purposes over the next few months – has a look at Siya Kolisi, Vermeulen and Whiteley as a loosie alliance.

It seems to tick plenty of boxes balance-wise.

But the national mastermind has also indicated that Vermeulen will be used sparingly during the Rugby Championship (from August 18) if at all, as he fiddles with combos and occasionally sees how the team fares without the presence of such an established, known “grunt” factor.

It will also amount to some semblance of cotton-wooling, of course, as it is highly likely Erasmus will want Vermeulen to be in prime condition (considering his not inconsiderable age, and the amount of professional wear and tear the naturally physical player has already experienced) come the business end of the key 2019 season.

To get more freshly attuned to the pace of the southern hemisphere game, too, wouldn’t it be reassuring if Big Duane got a Super Rugby season under his belt - next year’s event will run uninterrupted to early July, as there are no June Tests - back in the colours of a SA franchise?

Considering his prior association with Newlands (2009-15), the Stormers seems a likeliest home again, at first thought, if that scenario were to play itself out.

But a complicating factor, of course, is the parlous nature of WP Rugby’s finances, especially given their costly ongoing legal battles with former commercial partner Aerios, and the dubious reticence of one or two figures in their hierarchy over the player.

Judging by recently-publicised squad offloads to European pastures, they certainly seem more of a “selling” than “buying” union at present.

But wherever he finds himself stationed club/franchise-wise on the planet in the coming months, mark down Vermeulen, good health permitting, as a RWC 2019 blue-chip element for the Boks.

Some of us would have said that well before last Saturday …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  duane vermeulen  |  rugby


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