JOHANNESBURG - Two weeks after being dismissed as no good, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has recalled veteran Duane Vermeulen to help save the team from more embarrassment in Europe this month.
The 31-year-old Toulon-based No 8 was brought into the squad as the official replacement for the injured Coenie Oosthuizen (knee surgery required) on Monday, but Vermeulen will definitely not prop up the Bok scrum in the remaining three matches on tour.
Rather, Vermeulen’s recall must be seen as Coetzee desperately wanting, and needing, more leadership in his pack following Saturday’s humiliation by Ireland in Dublin, and also to add beef and experience to the pack following the injury suffered by the coach’s baffling first choice blindside flank Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Du Toit suffered concussion in the 38-3 defeat, which has ruled him out of this weekend’s outing against France, paving the way for a reshuffle in the back-row, one that will hopefully be more balanced and effective than the one that did duty three days ago.
Vermeulen will almost certainly take over at eighthman, with last weekend’s No 8 Francois Louw shifting to openside and Siya Kolisi returning to his more favoured and better-suited role as blindside flank.
But what is even more baffling than replacing a prop with a loose forward is the fact that just days before the Boks’ departure to Europe for their four-Test tour, Coetzee didn’t deem the 32-Test Vermeulen good enough for the Boks. How things have changed after one defeat.
At the time, Coetzee said: “He only returned to action last week (three weeks ago now). I’m not sure how much playing time he got, but if I showed you our training stats, you wouldn’t be asking me about Duane. I wish I could show you our GPS stats, and that’s just at training.
“The total distance we cover at training is something else. Our players are covering between five and eight kilometres per session ... that’s over 100m per minute. I’m so pleased with our conditioning. It’s not going to be easy to come from club rugby and step into our mix, especially with the way we train.”
What Coetzee was getting at is that he felt Vermeulen, because the former Stormers man plays in France, wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace set by his Bok teammates, or anyone else for that matter. On Saturday in Dublin, none of the so-called expertly conditioned Boks were able to keep up with the Irish, and this week Vermeulen is seemingly up to speed.
With Vermeulen coming in, the likes of Dan du Preez, a specialist eighthman, and Uzair Cassiem, who played at eight in two Tests this season, must be wondering what they did wrong to be overlooked, if that turns out to be the case. But why bring Vermeulen in and not start him?
And with no other prop coming into the squad - for Oosthuizen - Trevor Nyakane is set to again come onto the bench as tighthead and loosehead cover, with Ruan Dreyer no doubt also getting another look-in, despite being shown up every time he’s stepped into the Test arena. Wilco Louw, who replaced Oosthuizen on Saturday, will be the favourite to continue in the No 3 jersey, but Coetzee will be hard-pressed to stick with Beast Mtawarira, so Steven Kitchsoff could be set for a return to the starting team.
These are just some of the selection dilemmas facing the under-fire Bok coach in the coming days, because his whole backline virtually needs an overhaul, too, starting with the halfback pairing. Coetzee will name his team for this weekend’s Test against France on Thursday.