JOHANNESBURG – Japan-based Duane Vermeulen looks set to be the big addition to the Springbok squad when coach Rassie Erasmus finalises his party for the upcoming European tour next Saturday.
Vermeulen, who starred for the Boks in the June series win against England, did not feature at all in the Rugby Championship, opting rather to take up a contract with Japanese club Kubota Spears.
But the 32-year-old is expected to be back in business for the Boks for the four-Test tour – against England, France, Scotland and Wales next month.
Vermeulen’s experience in northern conditions – he spent four seasons playing for French club Toulon – will be of massive benefit to the Boks.
Also, the Boks have had to do with the more mobile, but also more lightweight Warren Whiteley and Sikhumbuzo Notshe in recent Tests.
The bulky Francois Louw, though, did start at No 8 in the Test against the All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld.
Erasmus will select his 35-man tour squad next Saturday, following the Currie Cup final.
It’ll be interesting to see which of the overseas-based players will be part of the action in November.
Besides Louw (Bath) – who should feature again at some stage next month – Faf de Klerk (Sale) and Willie le Roux (Wasps) are players who have become integral members of the Bok squad this year.
And while it was reported after the Rugby Championship that there were doubts about the availability of De Klerk and Le Roux, it seems they might feature at some stage in the next month.
None of the Europe-based Boks though – including prop Vincent Koch (Saracens), who played in the final Test of the Rugby Championship – will be available for the first match against England on November 3, because the match falls outside the Test window.
Their absence would give Erasmus and his coaching team an opportunity to test a few other players, who perhaps didn’t get much game time during the Championship.
Here one thinks of scrumhalves Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl, and possibly even another No 9 who could come into the reckoning, like Cobus Reinach, while Damian Willemse could take over at fullback in place of Le Roux.
Having cast his net wide in June and during the Rugby Championship, and tested several players and combinations, Erasmus is not likely to surprise by naming a bunch of newcomers to the squad next weekend.
He will, however, hope that Lions No 8 Whiteley – who played against the Sharks in a Currie Cup semi-final yesterday – is completely over the adductor muscle injury that kept him out of the home Tests against Australia and New Zealand.
Erasmus will name a provisional squad and training group today, minus those players who’ve been released to play in next weekend’s Currie Cup final, to prepare in Stellenbosch next week for the European tour.
None of the contracted Bok players, unless Erasmus feels they need game time, will be released to play in the final.
The Boks will head to England next Saturday night, just hours after the Currie Cup final.