Seasoned campaigner and versatile loose forward Duane Vermeulen, is expected to take his place in the starting fifteen against France on Saturday after being recalled to replace the injured Coenie Oosthuizen.
There have been calls for wholesale changes to the Springbok lineup for the France game and Duane Vermeulen’s return to the lineup has a potentially positive knock-on effect in a few key areas.
Outside of the pack, there is also talk of changes in the backline. Handré Pollard and Rudy Paige are being mentioned as a possible new pairing at half back for Coetzee’s side. Pollard has been wrapped in cotton wool after lengthy injuries but the 23-year-old could start in Paris. Scrumhalf Ross Cronjé is expected to be replaced by Rudy Paige. Sharks centre Lukhanyo Am, who excelled in the Currie Cup this season, could get the call to replace either Damian de Allende or Jesse Kriel. Former Bok coach Nick Mallett was particularly scathing about the centre pairing in Dublin, saying “The midfield attack – the two centres – showed absolutely no ability to straighten, catch or pass, which are the basics of international rugby.”
But it’s the return of experienced number 8 Duane Vermeulen that might have the most profound effect. The Toulon man will replace the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit, who sustained a concussion against Ireland on the weekend. Vermeulen joined up with the squad yesterday and his experience of 37 caps will be welcomed by a group that needs a boost. Crucially, his presence in the side will give the loose forward trio a more balanced look. Siya Kolisi can now operate as a blindside flanker and Francois Louw will occupy the number 6 jersey where he has excelled for the Boks throughout his career.
Vermeulen will immediately make the loose trio look a more balanced and accomplished unit, not to mention more experienced. Which begs the question – do overseas based players add an element to the side that’s missing and make them stronger?
Vermeulen was ruled out of the June tests against France and the recent Rugby Championships, but he publicly reaffirmed his desire to represent the Springboks again a fortnight ago. The man who represented The Stormers and Western Province with distinction for six years made the move to Toulon two years ago and he now captains the French Top 14 outfit. Vermeulen’s experience of France’s top division rugby should equip him with the know-how to cope with the challenge that the Boks will face on Friday, and it’s hoped that this will rub off on his teammates.
Springboks unable to win away from home
The Springboks results away from home since 2015 under Allister Coetzee don’t make for pleasant reading, if you’re a Bok supporter that is. For the record, since World Cup 2015, South Africa have won only one out of ten matches away from home and that was against Argentina in August. The latest defeat in that sequence, of course, was the 38-3 reverse against Ireland.
To add to that, Allister Coetzee has never won a test match in the Northern Hemisphere. The coach has pointed to the difficulties in playing up North, saying “The challenges in northern hemisphere rugby v southern hemisphere rugby … you go down in the first scrum and concede a penalty. Three points. Then the next penalty, you don’t roll away. Three points. Then another three points. Then all of a sudden you’re 9-0 behind.”
The Springboks will face a different type of Northern Hemisphere challenge on Saturday as they take on France in Paris, with Toulon number 8 Duane Vermeulen tasked with neutralising the running threat of club mate Mathieu Bastareaud.