CAPE TOWN - There are many images one can recall from the Springboks’ first two Tests against England. Many celebratory images. The all-round embraces between players that could be seen once the final whistle went in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, embraces that relayed elation and perhaps a bit of relief. The excited high fives. The images of cheerful fans, fans who had witnessed many Bok lows and who were finally treated to some great highs.
And then there were all the little celebrations that happened during the game. The celebrations after tries, the celebrations after big scrummaging efforts and after breakdown victories. And one man who was often on the receiving end of shoulder taps and “well dones” for his work on the ground is Duane Vermeulen.
The former Toulon star has contributed to the Boks in a big way since arriving back in South Africa from France, where he spent three seasons with the Top 14 giants. With rangy No 8 Warren Whiteley out of the picture then, Vermeulen’s addition to the Bok squad could always be expected.
And when it comes to what could be expected from Vermeulen, go-forward in the physical exchanges, added grit at the breakdowns and generally a barnstormer-type addition to the loose trio was what was anticipated. But Vermeulen has brought much more than just breakdown brawn. And until now, he’s contributed with the typical Duane stuff, he’s contributed what was expected of him, and a little more.
You see, when Vermeulen comes to mind, it’s not the image of a classical No 8 that pops up. It’s his brute strength and mongrel, if you like, that dominates air-time in the imagination of rugby fans. So how great was it to see this out-and-out hardman orchestrate the build-up to his try in Bloem?
The way he began his fierce charge just inside England’s 22 before sporting good vision to exploit the gap, getting rid of Maro Itoje and showing his power to force his way over the tryline, nevermind a couple of eager defenders, was superb. It was massive, and that kind of spot-the-gap-and-hit-it action that probably wasn’t expected from Vermeulen. And as good as that was, that try was only one of Vermeulen’s big contributions over the last two weeks.
He has been a beast on defence (sorry Tendai!), and his work at the breakdowns has caused the English all kinds of headaches. The fact that Vermeulen has opted to play his rugby overseas as opposed to going the loyalty-first route and focusing on Bok rugby is a matter there can, and will be, different opinions on.
But there can be no doubt that he has made a massive impact on the Boks’ performance in the series. And it’s not over yet. So, as the Boks prepare to go into their last Test of the series, let’s hope to see more fine moments from Vermeulen, not just on defence, at the rucks or as he barges over the gain line, but more of those unexpected moments as well.