Being a Bulls four lock has been a ‘game-changer’ for Ruan Vermaak

ONE of Ruan Vermaak’s stand-out skills is the ability to contest opposition lineout throw-ins, and he was at it again in the last Bulls game against the Stormers. Photo: BackpagePix

ONE of Ruan Vermaak’s stand-out skills is the ability to contest opposition lineout throw-ins, and he was at it again in the last Bulls game against the Stormers. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Mar 16, 2024


EVEN though he came through the ranks from school to the top level at the Lions, Ruan Vermaak has found true direction and purpose at the Bulls.

A Hoërskool Monument product who played age-group rugby for the Johannesburg union and made the Junior Springbok team in 2018, Vermaak initially didn’t get much game-time in the senior side.

He was also shifted between lock and loose forward, and eventually made his way to Japan at the NTT Red Hurricanes, where he was coached by former Lions boss Johan Ackermann.

But then Jake White and the Bulls came calling in 2022, and Vermaak returned to South Africa and found a new home at Loftus Versfeld, where he has excelled over the last two seasons and established himself as the first-choice No 4 lock.

“It is unbelievable to be here and be part of this union. I am really enjoying it a lot and I am really thankful and blessed to be here,” the 25-year-old said this week as the Bulls got back to training for next Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Dragons in Wales.

“I was just at a stage where I was ready for a change, and I thought the Bulls was the best place to play my best possible rugby and to achieve my potential.

“Looking back to when I was at the Lions and overseas, I wasn’t quite sure of where I saw myself – was I a four lock, five lock or maybe a loose forward.

“Since coming to the Bulls, I have more certainty in my role, and taking the role as a four lock and embracing that role – taking the responsibilities of a four lock, of doing the hard work, was a game-changer for me.”

Vermaak is a formidable unit at 2.01m and 119kg, and has formed an excellent second-row combination with Ruan Nortjé. His big frame has been valuable in helping the Bulls get across the advantage line as a ball-carrier, while he also puts in the big hits in defence.

But one of his stand-out skills is the ability to contest opposition throw-ins in the lineouts, and he was at it again in the last Bulls game – the 40-22 victory over the Stormers at Loftus on March 2, which ended a seven-game losing streak against the Capetonians.

Vermaak snatched a Stormers throw-in inside the Bulls’ 22 in the first half, and that ramped up the pressure on the visitors’ lineout, which crumbled due to the likes of Vermaak, Nortjé and Reinhardt Ludwig competing in the air.

Working with a lineout master in Andries Bekker, who joined the Bulls as their forwards coach this year, has had the necessary effect on Vermaak and Co.

“It’s unbelievable to work with someone of his calibre – his history, how many games he’s played, the Bok games, and then his coaching experience,” Vermaak said about Bekker.

“Especially for us as locks, to be able to learn from him and take in all that information has helped a lot, and it’s nice to be able to work with someone who as much experience as Coach Andries has.

“From under-19, we (Vermaak and Nortjé) were playing against each other. We played together for the first time for the Under-20 Boks, and to play together for the last two seasons is just unbelievable.

“We complement each other well, and also have a good relationship on and off the field – we understand each other. It’s the number-four lock’s work to make the other guys look good!

“What makes it special at the Bulls is that there are three or four players in each position who are competing for that top spot.

“So, you can’t be complacent.”

The Bulls are well-placed to contend for both the URC and Champions Cup titles. They are second on the URC log on 40 points – four behind leaders Leinster, and will host Lyon in the Champions Cup last-16 in Pretoria on April 6.

They have three big games ahead: the Dragons in Newport on March 23, Leinster in Dublin on March 29 and then Lyon.

“It’s about not planning too far ahead and worrying about it, but just ensuring that we prepare week by week for the coming match,” Vermaak said.

“Just being aware of the situation we find ourselves in, in a moment of a game (has helped the Bulls become more consistent). If you are under the pump, stay calm, just make sure that we don’t make any irrational decisions.

“Just to keep our composure and be aware of the situation on the field. Last season, compared to the previous season, it wasn’t necessarily something that we were lacking in defence, attack or whatever.

“It was just that composure of knowing, okay, we need to exit now – or understand the game-plan better. I think it’s just that mental part.”