Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Duane Vermeulen prepares for ’emotional’ end to stellar Bok career

“There is an emotional side to it and there is the jersey and what it means. It means different things to every individual who has played in it."

Springbok legend Duane Vermeulen is preparing for what is most likely his final outing on the international stage and possibly in rugby altogether as he nears the end of a sparkling career.

The 37-year-old Vermeulen is the oldest player in the Bok World Cup squad, and has been dropping hints in recent times that this will be his final hurrah.

It has been a superb return to form this season for Vermeulen, who last year looked to possibly be past his best after some lacklustre performances, while a number of up and coming youngsters were putting pressure on his position in the Bok setup at the same time.

Go out with a bang

However, so far this season he has proved he can still produce the goods on the biggest stage and he will be eager to go out with a bang at the World Cup.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year I would have said there is no way that I would have made this (World Cup) squad. Then a couple of weeks ago we started playing and I felt good. My body felt good. I was well rested,” explained Vermeulen.

“Ulster really managed me well throughout the (URC) season. So I kind of feel refreshed and young and energised even though it doesn’t say that on paper. I am in a good place, so coming into today (Tuesday’s team announcement) I felt whatever happens will happen.

“I have really enjoyed my career so far but it’s not over yet. So I am looking forward to it (World Cup), and hopefully we can take all the advantages that come our way.”

Duane Vermeulen
Duane Vermeulen in action for the Boks in 2013. Picture: EPA/Kim Ludbrook

2019 triumph

Vermeulen played a massive role in helping the Boks clinch the World Cup title back in 2019 as the team’s starting eighthman, but it remains to be seen if he will be given the same role this time around or if he will provide backup to Jasper Wiese.

If it is to be his final few games for the Boks, Vermeulen just hopes to leave the jersey in a better place than when he got it while also passing on some stuff to the guys coming after him.

“There is an emotional side to it and there is the jersey and what it means. It means different things to every individual who has played in it,” said Vermeulen.

“I have had a good chat to Jasper Wiese and Evan Roos and hopefully when I step out they will understand what the jersey meant for me.

“So hopefully the next guy who steps in, a youngster coming into the Boks, they can now give it to them and tell them this is what it meant to the guy who had the jersey before me. If I can pass that legacy on I would be very happy.”

‘Fun career’

Vermeulen readily admits that the World Cup could be a good ending to a really fun career and one that was sparked back as a young kid playing rugby in the garden.

“It will be a good ending to a fun career and that’s what rugby means to us I think. You start out as a young kid playing in the back yard and then you start getting more serious about it,” said Vermeulen.

“The passion and love for the game starts at a young age and if you can pass that on to your kids and whoever else that is out there that is truly special.”

Looking at the squad heading into this year’s World Cup in France, Vermeulen believes the Boks are in a stronger position than they were back in 2019, despite the injury blows to three of those Webb Ellis Cup winners.

“If you look at the group back in 2019 a lot of the guys were very certain in their positions. We didn’t have a big competitive group and the players kind of knew who would be going (to the World Cup) and who would stay,” admitted Vermeulen.

“This year it is completely different. There are a lot of guys (in the squad) and a lot of competition. Everyone has got an opportunity, some a little less than others. But this is a talented group and if you look at it, the future is bright for South African rugby.

“It’s nice to see the youngsters getting an opportunity, stepping up and really playing well. So rugby is strong in the country and that is a fantastic thing to see.”