Vermeulen - a new age leader

2015-09-30 14:32
Ollie le Roux (Gallo Images)

South Africa’s win against Samoa was an excellent performance. As expected, the Springboks went back to basics and played simple yet mightily effective South African rugby. They ticked all the proverbial boxes and overpowered Samoa with a blend of intensity and well-channelled aggression.

Jean de Villiers’s influence and experience at outside centre was evident against Samoa in Birmingham. His departure and subsequent retirement from international rugby is a hammer blow for the Springboks. In the 79 minutes De Villiers was on the field against Samoa, he underlined his incredible play-making ability. He looked really good at No 13 against the Pacific Islanders and displayed a true warrior spirit. The former Springbok captain also showed a cool head, quick hands and managed to get the ball wide. Moreover, De Villiers excelled at outside centre against Samoa because he had youngster Damian de Allende on his inside, to run hard and create the space for him.

It’s a shame the above centre combination has been broken up. However, Jan Serfontein is a world-class player in his own right and he can do the business in the Test arena. If I was in Heyneke Meyer’s shoes, I would select Serfontein at outside centre with De Allende reprising his role at inside centre. Serfontein’s excellent ball skills and awareness of space coupled with De Allende’s physical strength and explosive edge would offer South Africa a formidable presence in the midfield channel.

On the captaincy front, the Springboks are shorn of an experienced leader owing to De Villiers’s tournament-ending jaw injury. It is a big loss, but in Duane Vermeulen I believe the Boks have a ready-made replacement. Vermeulen, who led to the Stormers during Super Rugby, is a new generation leader. In my opinion, he should be the player who takes control of the captaincy because he brings an ethos of physicality, hard work and humility. He is universally respected by his peers and the general rugby public. Even though the other 30 Springboks at this World Cup are all fantastic players, none of them even come close to what Vermeulen stands for as a player and leader of men. There shouldn’t be any doubts when it comes to appointing Vermeulen as the 56th Springbok captain. The man nicknamed Thor is a colossus on the field and leads through his actions. When he grew stronger in the second half against Samoa, the team as a collective increased its level.

While Scotland is a solid team, if the Springboks fire on all cylinders they will scrum them to pieces. WP Nel is definitely not going to pose a threat to South Africa at the set-piece. I really believe the former Cheetahs front-ranker is one of the most over-rated tighthead props in world rugby. Saturday’s Test at St James’ Park is set to underline just why Nel never really made it in South Africa.

However, what the Boks must be wary of is Scotland’s breakdown prowess. The Scots possess the ability to boss even the best teams on the floor. Scotland’s philosophy is to commit numbers to the breakdown. Therefore, South Africa must send extra players into the ruck in order to generate momentum. Our tight five must hit the rucks as hard as they can, and our loose forwards must play towards the ball because when quick ball is on offer, as was apparent against Samoa last Saturday, classy scrumhalf Fourie du Preez snipped around the fringes and created space for his outside backs.

Ultimately, the key for South Africa is not to play wide because Scotland boast a well-functioning drift defence. Meyer’s charges must rather hit them hard and close to the rucks with the pick and go tactic, which has proved a considerable weapon during the formative stages of the 2015 World Cup.

Le Roux represented South Africa in 54 Tests, from 1994 until 2002, and played at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

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