Bok boost as Duane trains

Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The return to full training of Duane Vermeulen on Monday will have warmed the heart in mid-winter of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

The robust No 8 took a fulsome part in Western Province squad training at Bellville, ahead of their defence of the Currie Cup title – the blue-and-whites open their account against the Blue Bulls at Newlands on August 10.

WP coach Allister Coetzee is no doubt resigned to the fact that, although such staple Bok players as captain Jean de Villiers and young second-row ace Eben Etzebeth participated in the session, they will quickly be plucked away for international needs as the Castle Rugby Championship looms large on the horizon.

At a media briefing, he confirmed that tigerish utility forward Deon Fourie would again captain the Currie Cup side.

South Africa, meanwhile, begin their quest to unseat defending champions the All Blacks in the four-nation competition against Argentina at FNB Stadium on August 17, and the path seems reasonably cleared for Vermeulen to return to Test activity then.

His return to full fitness, after damaging knee ligaments for the Stormers in a Super Rugby defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney in May, is no doubt especially keenly-awaited by Meyer because his other senior No 8, Bulls captain Pierre Spies, has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after managing to play only half of the last Test match against Samoa.

Spies did not impress in the June Test window period, making it only more likely that Vermeulen, a stalwart performer during the Boks’ unbeaten end-of-year tour of the northern hemisphere, would return to the jersey once back in action himself.

While it might make some sense for Vermeulen to get valuable game-time in the challenging first Currie Cup outing for Province, a far likelier scenario is that he will instead not be risked in the north-south derby and return, albeit relatively 'cold', for his country.

“Both Duane and (versatile former Lions forward) Michael Rhodes returned to training today,” Coetzee told Sport24.

“Their rehab has gone very well ... the downside is just that you can’t be sure whether the comebacks will be for us. I think Michael will definitely be back for us, but a guy like Duane may just go straight into Bok camp.

“I would obviously love to see Duane playing where he left off at international level. It’s just a matter of training now and getting his conditioning back.

“When they’re preparing in South Africa, Heyneke uses a 30-man squad for the Boks and they won’t normally be released for (provincial duty).”

Slightly less comforting news from Coetzee was that emerging young tighthead Frans Malherbe – the country is not massively blessed with quality No 3s right now – is unlikely to play until the last couple of rounds of Currie Cup, at the very earliest.

“Frans is out of the boot and doing well (after tearing ankle ligaments) but we don’t expect to see him soon.”

Malherbe has been fairly close to Meyer’s Test plans since he took the Bok reins last year, even if gnarly Jannie du Plessis remains clearly the first choice in the position.

Coetzee said hooker Tiaan Liebenberg was “two or three weeks away”, while long-term casualty Schalk Burger is due to see a specialist on Wednesday to gauge whether there is any clarity yet on a comeback.

Another Bok, flanker Siya Kolisi, is expected to return to training next week.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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