(As published in Matchday, the official matchday programme of the DHL Stormers.)
DHL Stormers No 8 is doing everything he can to make sure this is the year the team goes all the way ‘we cannot get on our high horse about it because although we enjoyed those wins we know it is a long season and every week there is a new challenge’
When Duane Vermeulen was yellow carded a couple of weeks ago against the Reds, it was the first time this season that the DHL Stormers No 8 has spent any significant period off the field while his team have been in action in a match.
In fact, Vermeulen being on the sidelines has been a rare thing now for almost three years, for this season is not the first where he has gone through a long sequence of matches without taking a break. Indeed, within the DHL Stormers team he is sometimes thought of as one who can occasionally take the team ethos a bit far such is his determination to stay on the field and play for his team-mates.
‘It isn’t really during the matches that you need to take a rest. If you need a rest, that can be done during the week when you can sit out a training session on a Monday. That is usually when I feel a bit tired,’ says Vermeulen. But he doesn’t really like sitting it out then either.
‘I hate sitting on the field watching the guys play or train; I always feel like I must be out there sweating and suffering with them,’ he says.
Vermeulen, though, strikes one who can play through the pain barrier and is happy to do so. While other players cry off at the first sign of any pain or potential injury, and perhaps wisely so, Vermeulen prefers to battle through it in the same way that former Stormers captain Corné Krige used to in his playing days.
‘It’s not like I don’t get injured, I do occasionally have issues. In fact, I always have some issue or another, like last season when I played with a broken thumb, but they are never serious enough to stop me playing. When the team needs you, you must deliver. I would rather play because that is what I am paid to do.’
Vermeulen, who served an apprenticeship at the Pumas before coming to the Cape via the Cheetahs, has been happy with his form this season, but like most of the DHL Stormers team, he feels he is capable of a lot more than he has delivered so far.
‘It hasn’t been a bad season so far but I know I can do a lot more and that is a little frustrating at times,’ he says. “By a lot more I mean I can get involved more, get to carry the ball more. I like tackling, and have been doing a lot of that, but I also really enjoy carrying the ball and attacking the opposition with ball in hand.
‘Why that hasn’t been happening I suppose is the question that we need to ask ourselves as a team. I don’t think it’s any secret that while we are happy to have won seven out of eight games in this season’s competition, we are still way short of where we want to be as an attacking team.
‘We haven’t been scoring tries this year and it has been frustrating. Last year we scored some good tries but it is a different year and different competition and we found it tough to get going. Hopefully it will come now that we have reached the second half of the tournament. We would like to hit top gear sometime because we know this team is capable of a lot.’
Those words might be interpreted as a warning to future opponents if you consider that listed among their conquests this season for the DHL Stormers are two away wins at venues where they have not enjoyed much success.
‘The wins over the Bulls and Sharks were big ones for us, certainly from a psychological viewpoint,’ says Vermeulen. “We had not beaten the Bulls at Loftus since 2003, so even though they are not playing that well at the moment that was an important victory for us. And I think the run of losses in Durban against the Sharks went back to 2004 before we beat them there a few weeks ago.
‘But we cannot get on our high horse about it because although we enjoyed those wins we know it is a long season and every week there is a new challenge. The Sharks had flown around the world before we played them in Durban and we know they will be a big challenge for us at Newlands.’
Talking of Newlands, the DHL Stormers suffered what for them has become a rare defeat on home soil when they went down to the Reds in their last appearance at headquarters.
‘It was disappointing to lose but in a way maybe it was a good thing as it told us that not everything is completely right in our game and we are beatable if we don’t do everything properly and efficiently every week. The Reds showed us where we are going wrong and what we need to do to fix it.
‘In that sense, the break for the bye came at the right time as it gave us a chance to regroup and have a look at where we are and where we intend going. Some of the guys were also a bit battered and bruised after playing for eight weeks on the trot.
‘I think we have been lucky with our draw this year because it has enabled us to build a bit of momentum before we go on tour. We are a team that likes to tour, but it is nice to start on a tour with a bit of confidence. Of course the next two weeks, with matches against the Sharks and then Crusaders, will determine what mood we will be in when we go on tour. They are important as we want to go on tour with some confidence.’
Like all top players Vermeulen would like to play for the Springboks, something that was denied him when he had to quit a national training camp soon after Peter de Villiers first took charge in 2008 to have a troublesome neck condition seen to.
‘I’m not sure I would have made it into the team but I had been playing well and I felt confident,’ recalls Vermeulen of that Somerset West camp.
‘But I had a problem and it was one I just couldn’t ignore. I was having trouble with the neck nerves running down my spine. I couldn’t feel my left arm. I was given a choice: I could have an operation or I could sit out for a couple of weeks. I chose the more attractive option which was to sit out.’
Vermeulen hasn’t been as surprised as some of his fans are that he continues to be ignored by the national selectors as he says ‘there are exceptional players in my position in South Africa’, but although the Boks do have the option of moving Willem Alberts to No 8, the recent poor form of incumbent Pierre Spies should have been a spur to him.
‘Every guy wants to play for his country, and it would be great to play at a World Cup, but it depends what the coaches want. Right now I just want to do well for the Stormers and help us hopefully win a Super Rugby trophy.’ –
Gavin Rich – Matchday magazine