Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)
Cape Town – Seventeen weekends ... that is
how many will have passed, come this Saturday, since inspirational Springbok
forward Duane Vermeulen last played a rugby match of any kind.
The good news, it seems, is that the rugged
No 8 will be in the selection frame – the Bok team is scheduled to be revealed
on Wednesday morning – for the World Cup fixture against Samoa in Birmingham.
It is a timely tonic, if so, for a squad
still reeling and widely pilloried after that shock-of-a-lifetime 34-32 Pool
B-opening defeat to Japan at Brighton.
Or is it?
One of the reasons cited for South Africa’s
embarrassment at the Community Stadium was that the Bok match-day squad was
fatally overloaded with players well short of a gallop after injuries of
So when the Japanese “invasion” of their
try-line gathered steam in the definitive last few minutes, the huge
favourites’ ability to repel it was probably not nearly as stamina-laden as was
clearly found to be necessary.
The quicker that Vermeulen, still broadly
considered next best eighth-man on the planet to the All Blacks’ Kieran Read,
returns to best possible service the better for the chances of a pronounced
revival at the tournament by the Boks.
But the conundrum for embattled coach
Heyneke Meyer is how to accommodate the brutish specimen, given that he must
once again balance the need for some of his players to keep amassing return game-time
with great wariness over fielding an “undercooked” combination once again.
For example, if another robust element in
Willem Alberts, who has only played roughly an hour of Test rugby in Buenos
Aires this year, passes the fitness requirements for a start at blindside flank
after a calf problem belatedly ruled him out against Japan, can you really risk
him featuring alongside Vermeulen (zero international minutes in 2015) in a
reworked, starting loose trio?
The hope under those circumstances would be
that the likes of Vermeulen and Alberts help the nervy Boks achieve a
bridgehead as quickly as possible against the uncompromising but limited
Pacific Islanders, and try to put the result largely beyond doubt before the
game winds down to the final quarter or thereabouts and fresh giant-killing
thoughts may swirl.
Whether both big men would have sufficient
air in their lungs to achieve that remains to be seen; it might be wiser for
Meyer to have Vermeulen lurking among the substitutes and introduce him for the
closing stages – a phase of the game where the Boks had descended into relative
chaos in Brighton.
It is doubtful, frankly, whether you would
be able to coax any more than 40-50 genuinely productive minutes out of the
ring-rusty Vermeulen at this stage, so that will have to be considered by Meyer
as he gingerly pieces together his side for game two.
Ahead of his neck surgery – seldom the
easiest of medical procedures – the 29-cap former Stormers captain (all of his
Test matches thus far have been as a starter) last played a first-class match
for his franchise in the Super Rugby tussle with the Cheetahs at Newlands on
If he does run out at the outset at Villa
Park on Saturday, the Samoans would greet his presence with a rightful
combination of some trepidation, given his undisputed record as a warrior of
note, but also an inevitable dollop of hope.
Yes, they’d quietly be thinking “here comes
another of those crocked Boks”.
Just how cleverly Vermeulen is deployed,
and how contrastingly match-sharp the immediate colleagues around him are, could
help influence the outcome in this one.
On one of the official RWC television talk
shows on Monday evening, retired Wallaby legend George Gregan gave gloomy Bok
fans some renewed reason for optimism when he suggested: “The Boks will wake
like a grizzly bear (from the Japan fiasco) ... I wouldn’t want to be Samoa on
It is indelibly etched in Vermeulen’s
nature to wish to lead from the front for those types of challenges.
But just how much gusto can he feasibly
give straight away after such a lengthy layoff?
That is what Meyer must painstakingly calculate.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing