Duane Vermeulen has said his decision to move to Japan was made in December, before his recall for the Springboks. It comes after hefty criticism of Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus by 2007 World Cup winning coach Jake White.
White recently expressed disbelief that Vermeulen was allowed to play club rugby in Japan so close to the 2019 World Cup.
In his column for alloutrugby.com White cited the fact that a full-strength England had tested themselves against the might of the South Hemisphere prior to the 2003 World Cup in order to suitably prepare themselves to win the tournament. He also noted that Ireland also brought their front-line players to Australia for last months successful tour series against the Wallabies.
However White felt that Erasmus was not giving the Springboks the best shot at winning the 2019 World Cup by allowing Vermeulen to skip the Rugby Championship to pursue a stint with Kubota Spears.
“The only logical way to explain it is that, unlike other national coaches, Rassie is not worried about keeping his job. There’s no doubt in my mind that if his job depended on results over the next two years, there’s no way Vermeulen would have been allowed to go to Japan.”
White felt it was a “masterstroke” to entice Vermeulen back from French Top 14 club side Toulon, but added “if Duane is important enough to bring back from Toulon, and consider appointing him as the captain, why would you not have him involved in the next six Tests against the best teams in the world? These are the same teams that the northern hemisphere heavyweights are so eager to Test themselves against before the World Cup.
“If Ireland see beating southern hemisphere sides consistently as a crucial step in the process to winning the World Cup, why has South Africa not learnt that lesson?”
White certainly didn’t hold back in his criticism of Erasmus, who led South Africa to a 2-1 June series win over England.
“I find it incredible that the Bok coach, after two of the worst seasons in team history, is under so little pressure that he’s released the most impactful forward, who he just brought back from overseas. And it’s even more incredible when you consider that the 30-Test rule was changed so that Rassie could pick his best side, and now he’s voluntarily allowed one of his best players to go back.”
White dismissed the idea that Vermeulen’s absence would allow the Springboks to expand their playing pool, instead he feels it has handed an unnecessary advantage to their upcoming Rugby Championship opponents.
He concluded pointedly “When players are allowed to negotiate where and when they’re available to play for South Africa, that’s how you lose your edge as a rugby powerhouse”.
But Vermeulen has now rushed to the defence of Erasmus after White’s criticism.
Speaking to SA Rugby Magazine the number eight said “I would have liked to have come back and played in South Africa but at the time of those negotiations, however, most of those South African teams were already set with players for the 2018 season.
“We could not manage to agree terms with a South African franchise and SA Rugby at the time and eventually reached consensus that I will play in Japan between July 2018 up to the end of the Top League tournament.”
Vermeulen feels that after the intensity of playing in France for three seasons, Japan will provide a welcome respite.
“My stay at Kubota will give me an opportunity to better preserve my body but still give my best for my club, which is non-negotiable to me.”
“Experiencing the Japanese culture, the playing style, and the stadiums before the World Cup won’t hurt. It’s actually something crucial. Anybody who is playing in Japan before that tournament will have a bit of an advantage over others who have never experienced the conditions.”
“My journey with the Boks is hopefully far from over. ” he added.
You may also like: The End of Newlands
Watch the Heineken Champions Cup Final live on RugbyPass throughout Asia and Australia.