The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: No 8 Vermeulen the Boks' rock
AS part of The Glory of '95 series, three of IOL Sport's rugby writers decided to pick their ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV. Today we look at the No 8 position.
Candidates: Mark Andrews (1995), Danie Rossouw (2007), Duane Vermeulen (2019)
JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN
Only one of the three candidates is a true No 8; the others being lock forwards who were used, brilliantly, by their coaches in the latter stages of the World Cup.
Kitch Christie shifted respected lock Mark Andrews to eighthman in the knockout stages of the 1995 World Cup because he wanted more bulk and a greater lineout presence in his pack, and also because he wasn’t prepared to drop Kobus Wiese or Hannes Strydom.
And, Jake White followed suit in 2007 when he brought in the powerful Danie Rossouw to wear the No 8 on his back, with Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield secured in the second row. And how well didn’t Rossouw perform. He added bulk to the pack, gave the hooker and captain John Smit an extra lineout option and he brought power to the defence - who’ll forget the crucial tackle on Mark Cueto when the England winger looked to have scored in the final?
For me though Duane Vermeulen wins selection as the “final team’s” No 8.
A powerhouse player for the Boks in 2015 - remember that behind-the-back pass to Fourie du Preez in the quarter-final against Wales? - and again in 2019, Vermeulen was key in Japan last year.
He was solid as the main receiver at the restarts and almost always made ground and breached the gain line when he carried the ball. He also sucked in more than one defender when he did carry and his strength at the breakdowns as a genuine poacher came through on more than one occasion.
Vermeulen tackled strongly and produced several quality performances over a memorable six weeks in Japan; a worthy winner of the World Cup and the best who’s worn the No 8 in a final.
Jacques’ choice: Duane Vermeulen
The Boks have had some useful No8s at World Cups but, really, this is a one-horse race and the jockey has Duane Vermeulen written on his back.
In 1995, Rudolf Straeuli and Mark Andrews shared the position and both did a job for Kitch Christie. In 1999, there was huge controversy over the No 8 position after Nick Mallett curiously chose to drop popular captain Gary Teichmann for that World Cup for Bob Skinstad. It should never have happened because Teichmann was the glue that held the highly successful 1998 team together and, probably most importantly, Skinstad was carrying a serious knee injury and was nowhere near his best.
A very young Juan Smith played No 8 in 2003 and struggled out of position (he is a blindside flank); in 2007 Danie Rossouw was excellent there, while in 2011 Pierre Spies was in the incumbent in a Bok team knocked out early in the tournament.
Which brings us to The Rock. Vermeulen went to the 2015 World Cup having only just recovered from a serious neck injury and Heyneke Meyer was going to save him for the later stages of the tournament. But after the Boks lost to Japan in round one, Vermeulen insisted that he play in the next game, against Samoa, and he was Man of the Match.
He was exceptional right through that World Cup, with the Boks finishing with the bronze medal after having lost 20-18 to New Zealand in the semi-final.
Vermeulen’s heroics last year in Japan are still fresh in our minds, so no need to elaborate too much on that one.
Mike’s pick: Duane Vermeulen
Mark Andrews did a solid job in the 1995 final, and the same could be said about Danie Rossouw in 2007.
But the man who should have been at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Duane Vermeulen, finally made it on the biggest stage in 2015 and proved then already that he is going to become one of the finest Springbok No 8s.
Having missed out four years previously due to a knee injury, the then-Stormers stalwart had to shake off a serious neck problem to make it to England in 2015.
But he made his presence felt, none more so than in the quarter-final against Wales, where he broke off the back of a scrum and held off a defender to deliver a back-flip to captain Fourie du Preez, who dashed over in the corner for the winning try.
Vermeulen’s powerful surges with ball-in-hand and damaging tackles soon made him a Bok hero, and despite playing overseas for a few years, he made it back into the SA set-up for the 2019 event in Japan after signing for the Bulls in Super Rugby.
He earned his 50th Test cap in the opener against the All Blacks, but was on the losing side despite producing a typically industrious performance.
The big No 8 survived a horror tip tackle in a pool game against Italy to make it through to the quarter-finals, where he played a crucial part in the forwards’ dominance against Japan.
Vermeulen was his usual busy self in the semi-final against Wales, throwing his body about, contesting hard at the breakdowns and winning lineouts.
He saved his best for last, though, winning the Man of the Match in the final against England. One memorable tackle came around the 30th-minute mark in which the English were pounding away at the tryline, and Vermeulen stopped a surging Billy Vunipola in his tracks and almost carried him back, away from the whitewash.
He also claimed a number of high balls with aplomb, and was the rock around which was the Bok pack was built.
Ashfak’s choice: Duane Vermeulen
It's unanimous ... Duane Vermeulen is the people's choice!
Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV (so far): 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Hennie le Roux. 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Joost van der Westhuizen, 8 Duane Vermeulen ...