Cape Town – Duane Vermeulen had to wait way too long for his Springbok debut, but since that first Test in Perth in 2012, he has become a stalwart in the national team.
His crowning glory came at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where he was one of the standouts as the South Africans marched to the title despite losing the opening game against the All Blacks.
Vermeulen was the Man of the Match as the Boks withstood a fierce first-half onslaught from England to emerge 32-12 victors in Yokohama.
But four years later, should the former Cheetahs, Stormers and Bulls bruiser make the trip to France 2023?
Vermeulen will turn 37 in early July, about two months before the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off, with the Boks starting their campaign against Scotland at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on September 10.
He expressed his desire to put himself up for selection in an interview with Afrikaans newspaper Rapport last Sunday, saying: “I am going to give everything to make the Springbok squad for the World Cup. I am in no way considering retiring before the World Cup.
“I read somewhere that they announce the World Cup squad on August 8. At least it gives a man enough time.”
His Ulster coach Dan McFarland sung his praises following a typically robust performance against the Sharks in Durban in late February, where the highlight was his hand-off that sent burly centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg flying backwards.
“Can he still go to the World Cup? Of course he can! We saw today how good he is. This is a guy who not long ago made three massive plays against the All Blacks,” McFarland said.
“That is what Duane does – he is the best mauler in the world, and when the team needs an important play to be made, he is the one who will make it happen.
“He might not be the all singing, all dancing, carry the ball 16 times a game player, but man, the influence he has on games is phenomenal.”
But it’s not such a straightforward argument to include Vermeulen in the final 33-man World Cup squad. He was left out of the Bok group for the November tour as coach Jacques Nienaber felt that he knew what he had in the veteran loose forward, and wanted to have a look at a few other candidates.
Well, the incumbent starting No 8, Jasper Wiese, has continued his outstanding form from that tour for English club Leicester Tigers, and his physicality and work-rate on attack and defence allows the rest of the Bok pack to function optimally.
Then of course, Stormers star Evan Roos is also in the mix, and despite his recent absence due to a knee injury that he actually sustained against Ulster in late January – following a ruck clean-out by Vermeulen and Nick Timoney – he was still invited to a Bok alignment camp in Cape Town last weekend.
Kwagga Smith operated at No 8 for the Boks last year too, and is going well in Japan for Shizuoka Blue Revs, and his ability to play in all three loose-trio positions is an added advantage.
In recent months, former Stormers youngster Juarno Augustus has also delivered some eye-catching displays for the Northampton Saints, so the former World Under-20 Player of the Year cannot be discounted for a late charge to make the Bok squad either.
It’s a difficult task for Nienaber and his fellow coaches to fit in five or six loose forwards in the final squad. Perhaps the versatility of some players would count in their favour, but for me, specialist loose forwards are the way to go – especially with other forwards such as Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Deon Fourie able to double-up in more than one role.
The best loosies available for the Boks are captain Siya Kolisi, Fourie (who can play hooker as well and has arguably overtaken Smith as a quick back-rower), Du Toit (who can cover lock too), Wiese, Vermeulen and Roos.
The next question will be whether Vermeulen should be the first-choice No 8 in France, but we still have a good few months to go to see who is at the top of their game in September …
* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.
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