JOHANNESBURG - Duane Vermeulen, one of the real veterans of Springbok rugby, is confident new coach Rassie Erasmus is the right man to get the national team back on track.
Vermeulen, who is expected to earn his 40th Test cap in the first of three Tests against England at Ellis Park on Saturday, knows the new Bok boss well, having worked with him at the Cheetahs and Western Province some years ago.
The 31-year-old, who is one of five overseas-based players picked by Erasmus for the series against England, is excited about working with Erasmus again. “We’ve come a long way together and I have a huge amount of respect for him,” said Vermeulen, who has just ended his contract with Toulon in France.
“Rassie taught me most of what I know. We’ve bumped heads on a few occasions,” he added referring to the former loose-forward, “but those things make you a stronger player. You’re never finished learning, even now. Rassie is the right guy to take us (the Boks) forward, to make us better.”
The No 8 said he was thrilled to be back in the Bok set-up and to be among his own people again. “I learnt a lot about myself in the three years I spent in France, but I’m back now and my head is clear. I’m keen to play Bok rugby again. I was tired of hearing the same Frenchman in my ear over and over again. It’s always nice being back in your country, to speak your own language, to mix with your people, the cultures here; we’ve got something special here.”
The last time Vermeulen ran out for the Boks was at the end of last year when he came into the squad as a replacement for the injured Coenie Oosthuizen in Allister Coetzee’s final tour as Bok coach. He missed the first game on tour - the 38-3 horror-show against Ireland - and then featured in the wins against France and Italy.
He said the mood in the Bok camp now was vastly different to what it had been seven months ago. “Last year it was like at the end of one coach’s era... the guys were in a difficult set-up after losing to Ireland. You could feel something was different, something was missing, the guys were down. You could see it in the body language,” he said. “This year is different. It’s a new group, they’re excited; they are a bunch of young guys, so hopefully we’re able to change something.”
However, Vermeulen admitted he didn’t know too much about most of the new young breed in the squad. The big No 8 believes that having a bunch of new players in the mix gives the Boks a bit of an edge, ensuring they won’t be as predictable during the series as England boss Eddie Jones believes they’ll be. Vermeulen is set to partner old teammate and now captain Siya Kolisi and Jean-Luc du Preez in the Bok back row this weekend.