Special homecoming for VermeulenComment on this story
Mombela - Springbok eighthman Duane Vermeulen will be hoping for a special performance against Wales when he makes his homecoming appearance in Mbombela on Saturday.
Playing in his 18th Test in the green and gold, Vermeulen missed out on the first ever Springbok match played in the Mpumalanga capital, against Scotland last year, because of injury.
The 28-year-old would return to the place where he took his first steps on the rugby field as a barefoot young boy.
“I missed out last year, so hopefully I can get a good start this weekend. I grew up here and I know most of the people and it's nice to hear and see that the people are coming out in their numbers to watch this Test and I just looking forward to it,” Vermeulen said on Tuesday.
“It's a massive occasion but hopefully it turns out to be a good one.”
On the team's arrival at the airport in the Lowveld on Sunday, Vermeulen was surprised to receive a warm welcome from his grandparents Daan and Lourencia Robbertse. Driving into the city, posters on lamp posts proclaimed the people of Mbombela - formerly known as Nelspruit - were Vermeulen's greatest fans.
He would count on some special support from the main stand at the Mbombela Stadium where mother Estelien was assembling a brigade of 109 friends and family members to cheer on her son.
While facing some of the toughest opponents in world rugby was no longer new to Vermeulen, it remained a nerve-racking experience for his mother.
“The stress started from a young age - at Bulletjie rugby level - and it never ends,” Estelien said.
“It is getting better, because when he first toured overseas and he got injured, I just wanted to get onto a plane and go to him.”
Estelien said on Tuesday she knew Duane had had the potential to play rugby at the highest level and she was proud to watch him appearing in the city where it all began.
“He's been playing from Bulletjie rugby level where he was playing bare feet. He went from Laerskool Nelspruit and Hoerskool Nelspruit to the Pumas, the Cheetahs and onto the Stormers,” she said.
Vermeulen suffered a serious knee injury three years ago which kept him out of contention for the Springbok squad at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
However, he did not have to wait much longer before making his Test debut against Australia in Perth on September 8, 2012.
The influential loose forward again suffered a knee injury on the Stormers' tour of Australasia in 2013 which ruled him out for the June internationals.
Vermeulen made a powerful return during last year's Rugby Championship and had since taken ownership of the number-eight jersey.
While it seemed unlikely any other player would wrest his starting position away from him any time soon, Vermeulen remained humble in his assessment of his performances at number eight.
“It's easy to get here, it's difficult to stay here - you're never safe,” he said.
“You've got to pitch up with that mindset - that you want to be the best and stay in this spot - and not think about losing your place.”