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DUANE VERMEULEN was “happy” after getting through Stormers practice unscathed yesterday, so there is a good chance of him being fit for Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final against the Sharks at Newlands.
There has been a test done almost daily on Vermeulen’s left knee in the last month to determine just when he will be back on the field, and he took his first steps back during the two-day camp in Caledon and Hermanus at the weekend. And after missing Monday’s training, he was back on the field in Bellville yesterday.
“Yeah, he did the training. He was happy, so we will see how it goes tomorrow,” Stormers forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot told the Cape Times yesterday. “It was a defence day, and it was good. We didn’t do much contact today – it was just semi-contact when the guys were tracking and stuff like that. It was a couple of shoulder hits, but it wasn’t full contact.
“We are happy (with Vermeulen) at the moment, and we will make a decision tomorrow (the team will be named today). Duane is one of our standout players, so to have him there would be fantastic.”
If Vermeulen doesn’t feature, Deon Fourie will start at No 8 again and face a serious test against Ryan Kankowski, who has been outstanding for the Sharks recently. Kankowski’s speed and size will give him the edge over Fourie, but Proudfoot wants the entire pack to dominate the collisions.
“The game will definitely be won and lost around the contact area – tackle, breakdown, ball-carries. The Sharks have dominated there against everybody else,” Proudfoot said. “Each player has to dominate his contact area. That is what we stressed today at training.”
Willem Alberts is the Sharks’ big ball-carrier and showed his value for the Springboks against England. But Proudfoot is confident that the Stormers can deal with the threat. “We’ve stopped him before! You’ve got to make your tackles, and you’ve got to go and fetch him – you can’t wait for him to run at you!”
One man the Sharks may have to watch out for is Andries Bekker, who seems to have found his best form again. Those thrilling runs are back, and even an offload or two. And he will have his fellow Bok lock Eben Etzebeth alongside him. “We are delighted to have the starting locks back together,” said Proudfoot.
“The work that the medical staff did with Andries during the break was fantastic for him, and he has responded well. Coming into the season, he came off a long injury, and it took him a bit of time. Then the wear and tear started to take its toll. Now, it’s like he got his second wind, and that’s great for him.”