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.
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.
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
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
comfortably the first home player, I felt, to effectively announce: “Hey, we want
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.
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.
about when Warren Whiteley returns?
understandably be a question on many observers’ lips - especially given news
that his return to Super Rugby action with the Lions is finally imminent.
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).
very different styles of players, and with notably different physiques and
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
It seems to tick
plenty of boxes balance-wise.
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?
prior association with Newlands (2009-15), the Stormers seems a likeliest home
again, at first thought, if that scenario were to play itself out.
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.
recently-publicised squad offloads to European pastures, they certainly seem
more of a “selling” than “buying” union at present.
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 …
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