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While not everybody’s cup of tea, the fact remains that next year established Springbok No 8 and known occasional game-breaker Pierre Spies will return to contention for the national team.


The Bulls captain, who went past the 50-cap mark earlier this year, has been sidelined since August after surgery to a fractured finger joint but ought to be back at the helm of his franchise team when they open their 2013 Super Rugby account at home to the Stormers on February 22.

At 27, the notably muscular character has plenty of rugby left in him and the same obviously applies to Ryan Kankowski, the same-aged, strong-running tearaway who is scheduled to return from his faraway Japanese base with Toyota Verblitz to bolster the Sharks once more in the southern hemisphere competition next season.

Video: Springboks’ Tuesday press conference

In their absence, Stormers/WP favourite Duane Vermeulen has had a timely (for him, anyway) extended opportunity to strut his stuff in Bok colours.

But it has been a thoroughly deserved gap for him to try to exploit: previously, wretched luck with pretty major injuries has thwarted his own quests to wear the green and gold despite his Super Rugby and Currie Cup form ahead of those personal mishaps certainly justifying his challenge.

Without Spies and Kankowski to worry about, Vermeulen, the meatiest unit of the three at 116kg, has had five successive starts for his country, beginning with the away Castle Rugby Championship Test against the Wallabies in Perth, where the Boks succumbed 26-19.

At that stage, Vermeulen was seriously undercooked: it was still unsatisfactorily soon after his return to first-class combat following surgery to damaged knee ligaments and initially – and inevitably – he seemed a little off the pace.

But the Nelspruit-born player has gradually clawed his way to greater prominence and productivity for the Boks, to the point that he looks reasonably entrenched in the position; it will be a bit of a surprise if he does not continue in the No 8 shirt against Scotland at Murrayfield.

Bok forward play at present, let’s face it, is close to the least of coach Heyneke Meyer’s worries, and part of that state of affairs is down to an increasingly settled and efficient loose trio comprising the particularly illuminating Francois Louw, plus Willem Alberts and Vermeulen.

But now the last-named player probably has two final opportunities in 2012 – Murrayfield and then the England challenge at Twickenham – to attempt to turn “reasonably entrenched” into “strongly” so before Messrs Spies and Kankowski rejoin the hunt for that jersey.

Vermeulen keeps scoring a solid but not quite sublime six or seven out of 10, if you like, for the Boks: his strengths have been decent physicality, an asset his coach tends to thoroughly approve of, alertness to turnover possibilities, decisive tackling and mauling, and all-round honest work-rate.

Traditionally an excellent lineout option for his Cape franchise, maybe this is an area the Boks could seek to engage him in to a greater extent than they already do, although Eben Etzebeth’s burgeoning strides as a front jumper – both on own and enemy throw – have been one good reason why Vermeulen’s skills in the department have not been too consistently required.

Spies, of course, is an undoubtedly world-class lineout player as well, although it is in some of the aforementioned responsibilities that fall into the “grunt” or “donkeywork” category where Vermeulen is arguably already outshining the more seasoned man from the Highveld, who is often justifiably accused of drifting in and out of high-stakes Test matches.

But where Spies retains a comfortable advantage is for athleticism and explosiveness off the mark: he is far likelier to be a link in either structured attacking plays or counter-attacking rampages from broken play, an area where Vermeulen (whisper it quietly, but especially post-knee injury?) tends to labour a little and cannot be placed in the same league as either Spies or the world’s premier and most rounded No 8 at present, New Zealand’s Kieran Read.

Against the reasonably limited Scots on Saturday, it would be a tonic to Vermeulen’s longer-term aspirations for South Africa if the Boks are able to build a nice head of early steam – something they glaringly failed to do in Dublin! – and then open the game up nicely, a phenomenon some of their long-suffering fans would welcome after the grim-spectacle fightback to pip Ireland.

Under those circumstances, there would be more of an onus, and opportunity, for Vermeulen to add some strings to his international bow by proving he can offer a splash of finesse, peripheral vision and deft off-load skills to accompany his fine industry in the trenches …

9 Responses to Springboks: Must Duane show more?

  • 1

    This player does not excite me at all, not nearly in the same class as the New Zealand no 8

  • 2

    In all fairness there Vermeulen is the best of a mediocre bunch.
    He, like Keagan Daniels, Spoes and Kankowski have been very good at S15 level but mediocre at test level. Schalk will be the ideal #8 if he returns.

  • 3

    Vermeulen is getting test after test to prove himself. till now nothing more than defense, he is not a link has no speed and is not making much yards as a ball carrier and also no real offloads putting players away into space.

  • 4

    His play has been a lot tighter than what we have become used to seeing from an 8th man, I still think he’s deserving of his spot, particularly in the light of the way that the Boks are playing.

    I think that this year was an opportunity missed for Kankoswki, I wonder if he will regret the timing of his Japan move.

    At the moment though Duanne is still the best of the available players, but I would like to see more from him.

  • 5

    Rugby posted their team of the week after the weekends internationals. Here it is:

    Team of the Week:

    15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
    Although his team slumped to defeat Halfpenny did little wrong, with his solid positional play and flawless goal-kicking one of the few positives for Wales.
    Bubbling under: Israel Dagg (New Zealand)

    14 Wesley Fofana (France)
    He may be more at home in midfield Fofana certainly imposed himself on the game from out wide and continued a remarkable start to his Test career which has seen him score five tries in his first seven matches.
    Bubbling under: Gonzalo Camacho (Argentina)

    13 Gonzalo Tiesi (Argentina)
    Played an important role in the Pumas’ watertight defence and also provided some urgency on attack by confronting the Welsh midfield in a committed performance.
    Bubbling under: Keith Earls (Ireland)

    12 Tamati Ellison (New Zealand)
    Showed some impressive versatility, straightening the line often to keep the fluid All Black backline ticking and underlined how much midfield depth there is in New Zealand with a polished game.
    Bubbling under: Jean de Villiers (South Africa)

    11 Juan Imhoff (Argentina)
    Used his searing pace to leave the Welsh defence for dead at times, but also worked really hard and earned his try which shifted the momentum in favour of his side.
    Bubbling under: Julian Savea (New Zealand)

    10 Daniel Carter (New Zealand)
    Another masterful display from Carter who controlled the game both with boot and ball in hand as he tormented the home side at Murrayfield.
    Bubbling under: Frederic Michalak (France)

    9 Ruan Pienaar (South Africa)
    Showed the value of his familiarity with the European conditions as the Boks relied on his kicking game, and capped off a solid outing with the only try of the match.
    Bubbling under: Tavis Knoyle (Wales)

    8 Louis Picamoles (France)
    The big loose forward used his considerable power to bully the Wallabies and keep his team on the front foot and showed some good control at the back of the scrum as well.
    Bubbling under: Taiasina Tui’fua (Samoa)

    7 Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
    The All Blacks captain was a menace on the ground as usual and also took the Scottish defence on by crossing the advantage line often.
    Bubbling under: Juan Manuel Leguizamon (Argentina)

    6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Argentina)
    An inspirational performance from the Pumas skipper who was simply everywhere at the Millenium Stadium and showed some classy touches on top of his incredible work rate.
    Bubbling under: François Louw (South Africa)

    5 Samuel Whitelock (New Zealand)
    He continues to develop at international level and this match was another important step for him. He was dominant in the set-piece and also stretched his long legs at times.
    Bubbling under: Julio Farias Cabello (Argentina)

    4 Pascal Pape (France)
    A no-frills outing for the French skipper who provided a reliable presence in the engine room as his tight five took control of the match.
    Bubbling under: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)

    3 Nicolas Mas (France)
    An immense effort up front laid the platform for his team’s dominance. He had the Wallabies front row on the back foot from the start which allowed those behind him to shine.
    Bubbling under: Census Johnston (Samoa)

    2 Andrew Hore (New Zealand)
    A typically busy game from the combative hooker who did some great work on the ground and finished off his try well.
    Bubbling under: Adriaan Strauss (South Africa)

    1 Wyatt Crockett (New Zealand)
    Delivered a powerful scrummaging display but also got involved in open play, making some yards along with some big tackles.
    Bubbling under: Alisona Taumalolo (Tonga)

    What about a RT team of the week??

  • 6

    @ Stormersboy:
    Just goes to show hoe poor SA rugby is under HM.

  • 7

    I think Duane Vermeulen is doing just fine… and is certainly a heap better than what Spies was!

  • 8

    I dont think Duane has done badly, but also not outstanding, although I agree he is better than Spies, certainly as far as work rate is concerned. Pity we dont have anyone in the same class as Kieran Read.

  • 9

    In my view Vermuelen has been the standout no 8 in SA over the last few years, but injury and the incumbents not doing anything glaringly wrong, has hampered his inclusion the Bok squad. Maybe his last injury has hurt his speed, but in saying that he is playing ok for the Bokke, and he is part of a formidable loose trio. I would not be unhappy if he was chosen ahead of Spies and Kanko next year.


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