By Jacques van der Westhuyzen for IOL
He’s been compared to legend Andre Venter and team-mate Juan Smith, and just like them, Duane Vermeulen is a man of few words.
Like former Springbok legend Venter and World Cup-winning Bok Smith, the 21-year-old Cheetahs loose forward is making his mark on the field, rather than in the press through bold statements.
Vermeulen has made something of a meteoric rise since joining the Cheetahs at the end of 2006 from the Pumas and is increasingly being spoken of as a potential Bok this year.
If he continues to produce the kind of rugby he’s played in the Super 14, and during last year’s Currie Cup, it’ll be a case of when, not if, Vermeulen wears the green and gold.
Unfortunately, he won’t be able to measure himself against one of the best loose forwards in the world – Jerry Collins of the Hurricanes – this weekend as the big New Zealander has returned home after picking up a rib injury. But in Rodney So’oialo and Chris Masoe, Vermeulen will have more than enough quality opposition to know exactly where he stands after Saturday’s outing.
Vermeulen’s big attribute is that he can play on either side of the scrum and at No8. “I played openside a bit last year, but am more comfortable at blindside or No8,” says Vermeulen, who played Craven Week Rugby for the Pumas in 2004. He ran out for the Mpumalanga Currie Cup team in 2005 and 2006 after matriculating from Hoerskool Nelspruit.
“I don’t really mind where I play as long as I get game-time,” he says.
He admits that joining the Cheetahs has had a significant impact on his rise to the top, where he regularly features in the weekly Super 14 form teams picked by scribes in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
“I knew that if I wanted to progress, I had to join a big union. The Cheetahs offered me that chance. Getting an opportunity to play Super 14 rugby was the key for me and obviously the next goal is to make the Springbok side,” he said.
“I’ve gained good experience playing against the best in the Super 14, while the players around me at the Cheetahs – especially someone like Juan Smith – have added to my growth as a player. But the coaches and all the players have had an input in my development.
“It’s also important to remember that an individual is only as good as the players around him, and here at the Cheetahs, we’re a close-knit group who have set high standards for each other. The Cheetahs also play the kind of rugby which suits my game.”
Vermeulen is certainly in the same mould as Venter and Smith in that he not only brings aggressive running to the loose trio, but also the ability to be a key lineout man. He’s also an effective ball-winner on the ground, which only adds to his array of skills. This is perhaps the one trait that makes him a more dangerous player than teammate and captain Smith, who is not known for his ability to steal ball on the ground.
While the Cheetahs have won just once this Super 14 season – they’ve lost a number of games by seven points or less – they’ve played some of the best attacking rugby of all the local sides. And Vermeulen has played a big part in those attacking moves. He says that little mistakes have cost them a number of victories this season, but, ahead of their clash with the Hurricanes this weekend, he adds there is still a lot to play for.
“It’s been tough at times to lift one’s head and stay motivated, especially when those tight games have got away from us. But, there’s no point in staying down… one has to look up and forward to the next game or you’ll never move on.
“We want to make right in the coming weeks what went wrong in the first half of the tournament and hopefully we can finish up in mid-table. The longer we play together as a team, the stronger we’ll become and the more dangerous we’ll be.”
Vermeulen may just be one of a number of genuinely classy loose forwards doing the rounds in South African rugby at the moment, but he’s certainly doing his Springbok chances no harm with his consistently good performances this year. He’s a versatile loose forward who seems to know exactly where the ball’s going to be, and it’s no coincidence he was named Man of the Match three times in last year’s Currie Cup. He’s won that award once this year, against the Reds, and he’s a player on top of his game.Tweet