BLOEMFONTEIN – The euphoria that has engulfed the country and the Springboks after their series-clinching win against England in Bloemfontein is but a small step in building a formidable team ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, according to Bok hard man Duane Vermeulen.
Powerful No 8 Vermeulen, who rolled back the years with a Man-of-the-Match performance in his first Test at his old home in the farming heartland of South Africa, believes that winning the first two Tests against England was pivotal in the team’s growth, but is cautious in calling the Springboks world-beaters so early into Rassie Erasmus’ tenure.
While Erasmus is expected to make some changes to his team ahead of the final Test at Newlands, Vermeulen wants the Boks to use the momentum gained in the past two weeks to take another giant leap forward by making sure that they claim a series whitewash.
“It’s a big start for us. It is the start of a new era, new guys and a lot of youngsters in the squad. We had our capping ceremony with 16 guys – don’t know if that ever happened before,” he said.
“There are a lot of new guys in the squad and they all put up their hands, that is nice to see. There is a lot of excitement building up to the World Cup, but we have to take it step by step.
“This was the first two hurdles, and next weekend is going to be another hurdle for us. We need to prepare for that and work towards our goal,” said Vermeulen in the aftermath of the 23-12 victory in Bloemfontein.
Vermeulen, though, is wary of the threat that England will pose in Cape Town, having now lost six consecutive matches and the pressure mounting on coach Eddie Jones and his players to turn things around before heading back home.
“This is Test-match rugby and anything can happen. We need to prepare accordingly, and next week will be a whole different game. We would like to prepare for it as well as we can, but you never know what England might bring,” Vermeulen said.
But the former Stormers skipper is already impressed by the culture of togetherness that is being cultivated in Erasmus’ squad.
And the now-former Toulon star believes that has been the secret to their sudden success, and will be a key ingredient going forward to even reach greater achievements, with their eyes firmly fixed on the World Cup in Japan.
It is how the players stood up for each other in the many scuffles that broke out in the second Test that has Vermeulen convinced about the sense of unity in the side.
“In a way, we knew this would happen. There are some guys in the England squad who are their talismen, and we knew we needed to tame them. We need to stand together, and it doesn’t matter what happened – you saw all the guys running in and protecting your mate.
“That is exactly the type of culture we want in this team, everyone needs to stand up for one another, and we need to fight together.”