Cape Town – “I truly believe I can still make a difference on and off the field for the Springboks.” That is how Duane Vermeulen feels about the contribution he could make to the national side this year.
And to display his commitment to go the extra mile to be selected for the Rugby World Cup squad, the veteran loose forward wants to register with a local club in Cape Town in order to be eligible for the Boks, having ended his two-year stint with Ulster recently.
Vermeulen, who will turn 37 in early July, is currently without a team, with reports that he is likely to hang up his boots after the World Cup if selected, with a possible coaching role at the Stormers rumoured to be in the pipeline.
“I believe you need to be affiliated with a club to play in the Rugby World Cup, and I’ve asked the Springbok management if I could be affiliated with Durbell, the rugby club that is a block away from my home,” Vermeulen said in a United Rugby Championship press release on Wednesday.
“I was offered an extension on my contract with Ulster, but I had a good chat with my wife and said I can only play rugby for so long.
“There comes a stage in your life when you need to take a step back. I’ve got two boys growing up, and I’ve missed out on a lot of family things. So, I wanted to come home and be with my family.”
But before his post-playing days are worked out, he is hoping to have one last hurrah at the highest level and help his country defend the Webb Ellis Cup that they claimed in Japan four years ago.
Vermeulen was included in a 33-man group that participated in a Bok training camp in Durban last week, and will hope to make the cut for the upcoming Rugby Championship, where the South Africans start their campaign on July 8 against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld.
While Jasper Wiese is the established first-choice No 8 and others like Evan Roos and Kwagga Smith in the mix, Vermeulen – who was left out of the Bok squad for last November’s tour of Europe – could still play an important role off the bench, like Francois Louw did in Japan in 2019.
The former Pumas, Cheetahs, Stormers and Bulls stalwart – who also played for Toulon in France and Kubota Spears in Japan – is a master in organising driving mauls from lineouts, and can also come up with a few crucial turnovers and win penalties at the breakdowns.
“I’m focused on this Rugby World Cup. If I play, I’ll give it my everything. If I carry a bag or I’m on the bench, I’ll give it my everything,” the big No 8 said.
“If I’m on the sidelines helping younger players or working like a coach, I’ll give it my everything. I would love to be a part of it and end my career on a proper high.
“Winning the Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of a player’s career. If I could be part of that again and defend that title with this team, that would be incredible.
“But I’d also like the opportunity to sign off on my own terms. There are a lot of players that don’t get to sign off on their own terms. For me, I’d like to say farewell to the game in my own significant way.
“I want to pay homage to the game which has given me so much in my life, and this would be a good way for me to say thank you to rugby. If I’m not selected, it will be tough.
“But I know that at the end of this year I’m done, and I’ve got a few months to give it my everything, and I won’t hold back. I’m going to push as hard as I can.
“There is still some fight in me, and I won’t take it easy on the guys challenging in my position.
“And I like to think I’m always learning more and becoming a better player every day. There are always new tricks of the trade that you pick up in your career.
“That’s why I’ve really enjoyed playing rugby abroad, because you pick up on different styles and you can bring it back.
“I truly believe I can still make a difference on and off the field for the Springboks.”
Vermeulen, who has 64 Test caps to his name, said that a chat with fans when going to rent out a generator for a function just reminded him of what it meant to be part of the Bok set-up.
“I haven’t played rugby in South Africa for two years while I was with Ulster in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, and the last time I was in the Cape playing rugby was in 2015,” he said.
“But the minute I walked into the rental shop, these two guys immediately recognised me and started talking rugby. I truly believe Nelson Mandela’s quote that sport has the power to change the world, and I believe the Springboks play a massive role in this in South Africa.
“When you’re away from the Springboks and you’re not in the mix anymore, you miss that feeling. It’s very special, and you can’t really explain it to anybody. It’s something you always want to be a part of.”