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Where Warren Gatland's Wales are poised to do the most damage

The best single unit in the Wales side is the formidable back row.

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'He is playing like a guy that wants to take the club somewhere'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

With Exeter having doubts that England back-rower Sam Simmonds will play for them again this season due to a hip/groin injury described as a “downward spiral”, the return to form of the fit-again Jacques Vermeulen couldn’t be more perfectly timed for the Chiefs. The South African was sidelined for ten months until March due to a couple of hamstring operations, but his value to Rob Baxter’s squad has been obvious since his return. 

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Vermeulen has been a starter in the last six Exeter matches and he led the fight last weekend at Munster in the round of 16 Heineken Champions Cup battle that was ultimately lost on an aggregate score of 34-23. That was his second start at No8, his other four recent appearances coming as the openside flanker. 

However, with Simmonds currently unavailable and awaiting further feedback from medical consultants, the re-emergence of Vermeulen and his attitude to deliver is something that has greatly enthused coach Baxter ahead of a three-game Gallagher Premiership run-in that begins this Sunday at arch-rivals Saracens. 

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“He has played fantastically well,” said Baxter when asked by RugbyPass about the influence that Vermeulen has wielded on Exeter since his March 6 comeback versus Sale. “He was probably the one guy we had in the team that hit the ball with pace against Munster and really created some proper dents and some proper gain line achievements for us, so really pleased with that. 

“He is one of these guys who is committed to being at the club long term, which I am really pleased, with and he is kind of looking like one of those guys who is playing like that. 

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“To me what is really pleasing is he is playing like a guy that wants to take the club somewhere and that is what you want, you want to get guys like that out on the rugby field. That is what I am seeing from him and I am expecting over the course of these last four, five weeks of the season to see more guys joining him in that level of performance about who is taking the club where we want it to go. At the moment he is one of our leaders in that performance area.”

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It was October 2019 when the 27-year-old Vermeulen made his Exeter debut after making his Super Rugby breakthrough two years before that at the Sharks back in his native South Africa. Exeter go into this weekend’s round of Premiership fixtures in fourth spot but they have played a game more than the five rivals on either side of them, the top three of Leicester, Saracens and Harlequins and also Gloucester and Northampton, the teams occupying the fifth and sixth places.  

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