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Duane Vermeulen breaks silence on his missed bucket list tick

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Fit-again Duane Vermeulen has broken his silence about the injury that caused him to miss the recent Lions series and tick a much desired Springboks milestone off his bucket list. The veteran No8 had been expected to feature in the South African back row until an ankle injury while playing Rainbow Cup for the Bulls in June ruled him out of Jacques Nienaber’s plans.


The 35-year-old came back into the Springboks squad for the final week of the Lions series but he didn’t feature in that game while he also wasn’t selected for the follow-up two matches versus Argentina, Vermeulen unselfishly telling his coach ahead of that Lions series finale he wasn’t fully ready to take part. 

Having since travelled to Australia, though, ahead of South Africa’s remaining four Rugby Championship matches, Vermeulen appeared alongside Nienaber at a virtually held media conference and has now declared himself finally ready to play for the Springboks for the first time since the 2019 World Cup final, the win over England where he was voted man of the match.   

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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber explains how lockdown is working at their Australian base
Video Spacer
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber explains how lockdown is working at their Australian base

“It was tough missing out on the Lions. It was a bucket list tick that I really wanted to be part of,” he admitted, reflecting on the series that eventually tilted the way of the Springboks 2-1 after they had lost the opening Test on July 24.  

My injury was a bit more severe than everyone else thought. I hoped to get back on the field for the final Test against the Lions and unfortunately I wasn’t ready. I gave it my all in training and went to Jacques and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to drop the team if you put me out on the field’. 

“I made a tough decision but that was the right decision at that stage, to make sure I heal up completely and be ready and fit for the following games. It’s difficult sitting on the sidelines but by running water on the touchline you can get into the coach’s head and you can be that extra voice for the coaches on the field. You can give some pointers to the guys on the field, where to play, what to do and what we are seeing from the outside. It was a nice introduction into coming back into the squad and now I am ready to go.”


The long term aim for Vermeulen is to still be a part of the Springboks at the age of 37 by the time of the next World Cup final in France in two years’ time. It’s an ambitious target for the 54-cap back-rower whose No8 shirt was worn by newcomer Jasper Wiese versus the Lions.  

Vermeulen was impressed by his new Test squad teammate and the hope is that the increased competitiveness for selection will benefit his own chances rather than herald the end of him as a Springboks regular. “You’ll keep on pushing as long as you can until you can’t keep up anymore,” he insisted. 

“That is the biggest thing I have learned. I have spoken to Jacques before and said, ‘Listen, I’ll try and give my best and play my part in this squad’. If he sees that I am not pulling my weight or I’m lacking in a way or I can’t keep up with the pace of the game, they need to sit down and speak to me about it and say, ‘Maybe your time has come and gone’. 

“Now I am still pushing and trying my best to play alongside my teammates and try to represent the country as best I can. Looking forward to the next couple of challenges that lie ahead and if that pushes you to another World Cup then so be it. I’m looking forward to that.


“You can definitely play a role not being on the field,” he added, explaining how he briefly dipped into the coaching side of things last month. “I love the mauling in our game in the way we play so with coach Deon Davids doing the lineouts and Lood (de Jager) and Franco (Mostert) and them, I have learned a lot throughout the years in mauling and I love it. 

“I tried to spend as much time with some of the guys and also introduce one or two new things to the guys on mauling and things that we can do to help the guys, to help improve the way we do our mauling. That really kept me busy and with all the analysis, the video and things like that, I hopefully helped the guys with some more technical stuff.

“There was one little slip (against the Lions) but from there on it has been one step at a time going in the right direction. I would say we are still not there yet (back to the levels of 2019). There are still a lot of things to work on because of the amount of time we spent apart and the new way the refs are refereeing the game, the new laws, all those things. It makes a massive adjustment to the way you play the game or the way you approach your game. Not there yet but we are hopefully going in the right direction.”  



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