Duane spared as Deon starts

MARK KEOHANE writes sanity has won the day and Duane Vermeulen has not been considered for the Stormers Super Rugby semi-final against the Sharks.

The Stormers management all week have hinted at Vermeulen playing, even though his last match was three months ago.

Vermeulen’s knee, like that of Schalk Burger and Nick Koster’s, has taken a beating in this year’s competition and it would have been unfair on the player to expect him to play a semi-final.

Deon Fourie, who started the season at hooker, will start at No 8.

Earlier today I wrote: Duane Vermeulen should be a Springbok. He should have been picked two years ago. He should have been picked for the Rugby World Cup. He should have … should have … would have finally had injury not prematurely ended his participation in the league stages of this year’s Super Rugby competition.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, in private conversation, and publicly made no secret about his admiration of Vermeulen’s play. The player, said Meyer, had the kind of physicality suited to Test rugby but he also had a composure Meyer believed would blossom in the Test environment. The initial Bok Test plan was to start with Vermeulen at No 8 and introduce Pierre Spies from the bench. Vermeulen then got injured. So did Ryan Kankowski and with neither Schalk Burger nor Juan Smith available the Bok coach went with convention and with a player familiar in Spies.

The Stormers, without Burger, Vermeulen and Nick Koster for most of the season, have severely been tested in this department. Siya Kolisi has grown from boy to man with regular playing opportunity, but playing the likes of hooker Deon Fourie at No 8 is a short-term holding job and is no replacement for a player like Vermeulen.

I can understand the management’s haste to have Vermeulen play against the Sharks and, if successful, in the final a week later, but I also fail to see how a player who has been injured for so long can be expected to start a Super Rugby semi-final? I don’t care who it is, there is no way he can be physically or emotionally up to the demands of a match of this nature. We know that Saturday’s semi-final against the Sharks is going to be played at a frenetic pace and the opening 40 minutes is going to be taxing, brutal and, if you are sitting in the stands, bloody amazing to watch.

But who can expect a player to produce anything of substance in such circumstances if he hasn’t even had a club match to test the knee.

There was a similar rush to get Juan Smith back for the World Cup a season ago and all it did was add an additional six months to his rehabilitation and also potentially end his international career. We still don’t know if Smith will play again or if he will ever play to the ability that made him one of the best in the game.

I’d hate to see Vermeulen injure the knee again because of a selfless act in believing he has to play. I’d hate to see a player’s year ended because of the potential of a Super Rugby final at home. There is a bigger picture for Vermeulen, and it includes playing Test rugby this season and making a contribution to the Springboks in the Rugby Championship and on the end-of-year tour.

I don’t think he will be any better than what has been playing for the Stormers in the last month, purely because of his lack of match conditioning and because of the doubts concerning his knee in contact. To expect him to play and to play to the standard he has set in the last few seasons is unfair and unrealistic.

The Stormers management should have written him off as a possibility, as they have done with Koster and Burger, and focused on those fit and available.

I am sure it is what it will come to. At least I hope so because Vermeulen, the unluckiest player when it comes to Bok selection, needs a bit of luck and he needs someone to put his personal aspirations first.

Not to mention his long-term contribution to rugby in the Western Cape.