Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Injury-free Vermeulen fired up for Wallabies Test: ‘I’m keen to play’

The Boks are also fielding a number of fringe players in the match who will all be eager to prove themselves.

Springbok stand-in captain Duane Vermeulen feels he is in his best shape in a long time and is fired up to take on the Wallabies in the opening match of the Rugby Championship at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening (kick-off 5:05pm).

Vermeulen, at 37 years of age, is the oldest member in the Bok squad and is making his first start since the team’s loss against Australia in Adelaide last year and his first appearance since their win over Argentina in Durban, after which he was rested for the end-of-year-tour.

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“Actually, I am feeling really good. I had a good two years at Ulster. Last year, I didn’t go on the end-of-year tour. They wanted to give younger players like Evan (Roos) and those guys an opportunity to see if they can play,” explained Vermeulen.

“I had a good chat with Jacques (Nienaber) and they said Ulster was managing me really well. They want to continue with that. It was open and we were very happy with it.

“I don’t have any strapping on my body anymore. For the first time in quite a long while, I am in a good spot and I am feeling confident.”

Wants to play

Earlier this season there were talks of Vermeulen possibly hanging up his boots soon and going into coaching, but the fire to play Test rugby at the highest level is still burning and he wants to continue playing as long as he can.

“I kinda look 32, don’t I? I am still keen on playing,” Vermeulen said with a laugh.

“My thing is, I want to contribute as much as I can. If it’s on the pitch and playing, or if it’s off the pitch supporting the guys and helping the younger guys coming through.

“If I can be a part of this squad, it’s the best feeling in the world for me. I would love to contribute in any way that I can and for as long as I can. If I am a player or if not, that’s up to the guys who make the decisions.”

Wallabies challenge

Looking at the challenge that will be posed by the Wallabies, Vermeulen admitted that the Boks would need to adapt to whatever is thrown at them by the very unpredictable Eddie Jones.

“We have to be adaptable. We can only prepare from what we saw of them playing in the Rugby Championship and end-of-year-tour last year. So with Eddie coming in, he has selected a couple of new guys and old heads which brings a different flavour to the game,” said Vermeulen.

“Quade Cooper has got a lot of skill and flair and he will look to bring his circus tricks and things that make him a special player.

“For us we have our plans and how we want to play and obviously they have theirs. So whatever they bring we will have to adapt and see what unfolds in front of us. Luckily we have good decision makers on the field, so we are focused on executing our plan and stopping theirs.”

Fringe players

The Boks are also fielding a number of fringe players in the match who will all be eager to prove themselves with a possible spot in the World Cup squad at stake, which has added a bit extra to the game.

“Everyone is pushing for a spot. You (the media) might look at it in a different way and say there are certain guys who have nailed down their positions. But from our side as players everyone is still pushing for a place in the world cup squad and a starting spot in the team,” said Vermeulen.

“I think there is a good mix of fringe players and regular starters in this team. Everyone is pushing one another to become better players and to play together as a whole. So there is a good vibe in the squad and everyone is enjoying it.”