Super Rugby

'You can't saddle a Mustang' - New Bulls coach Russell Winter can't wait to work with Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen and the departed Handre Pollard. (Gallo Images)
Duane Vermeulen and the departed Handre Pollard. (Gallo Images)
  • Russell Winter, one of Jake White's new deputies at the Bulls, considers it a huge privilege to be coaching Duane Vermeulen.
  • The new forwards guru will specifically look to harness the Springbok star's leadership qualities in a talented, burgeoning group.
  • But the former Stormers assistant, who coached a full pack of Boks at Newlands, is also keen to work with stars in their prime like Trevor Nyakane.

He's hardly unfamiliar with coaching Springbok superstars, but the excitement in Russell Winter's voice is palpable when he's asked about the opportunity to work with Duane Vermeulen.

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The Bulls' new forwards coach missed out on introducing himself to the stalwart eighthman - who moved to Toulon after the 2015 World Cup - by a few months following his move to Newlands, deferring a rugby bucket list item of sorts.

Now it's a reality.

"Jeepers, Duane is one of those players that every guy would love to coach," Winter told Sport24.

"He's an embodiment of the adage that you can't put a saddle on a Mustang. Duane's just keeps on going. He does everything flat out. One thing that's always stood out for me is that he refuses to lose. It's a characteristic that's actually rare among players. 

"I can't wait to engage with him."

While the proven class that the 54-cap Springbok brings to the Bulls' on-field product is obvious, Winter believes harnessing Vermeulen's brand of leadership will arguably be of even more value.

"Duane's obviously been a leader for some time now, but last year's World Cup really brought that to the fore again. You could see he was one of the motivators in that team, a guy who leads by example with his individual performance while also coming up with an inspirational word or two when required," he said.  

"He's a great guy to have for bridging the gap. In a sense we have a young pack who'll be finding their feet later gradually and his presence is massive."

The former Lions and Newcastle loose forward readily acknowledges that it will hardly be a one-man show when it comes to experience in the dressing room, with internationals in Trevor Nyakane, Lizo Gqoboka, Josh Strauss and Juandre Kruger all still present.

"You just can't buy that type of experience. It's one of the things that makes this project so appealing."

Don't expect him to be overawed by their presence though - this is a man who coached a full Springbok pack in Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.

"I'd like to think it puts me in good stead. These guys are absolute superstars who are respected all over the world. But I really enjoyed our mutual respect," said Winter.

"They always took on board what I suggested and I learnt a lot from them. I'll be applying all those lessons at Loftus too." 

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