Rassie calls on 'God of Thunder' for All Blacks clash

Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)
Duane Vermeulen (Gallo)

Cape Town - Rassie Erasmus has called up emergency reinforcements in the form of Duane Vermeulen, who he has asked to join the Springboks in Wellington, New Zealand, on September 15, ahead of the squad's Test against the All Blacks.

City Press' sister publication Rapport can confirm that Vermeulen's Japanese club side, the Kubota Spears, will not refuse a formal request from the SA Rugby Union (SARU) for the club to release Vermeulen for the Test. This is despite the fact that the Spears, coached by Frans Ludeke, had hoped that Vermeulen would play in all seven of their most important league matches.

The initial arrangement between Vermeulen and SARU was that he would miss the Rugby Championship because of his contractual obligations to the Spears. He was meant to only be considered again for the European tour at the end of the year.

But Erasmus' plans recently changed owing to, among other factors, injuries to loose forwards Cyle Brink and Jean-Luc du Preez.

Brink injured his knee so badly during Springboks training in Durban that he will most likely miss the rest of the season. Brink is not on Vermeulen's level yet, but he has similar strengths.

The Boks' depth among the loose forwards this week took a further blow when it emerged that Du Preez on Friday had to undergo an operation to his groin. It will keep him off the field for about two months.

It's also understood that the Boks coach wants to win the Test in Wellington at all costs.

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At one stage, he even considered sending a team, or a group of players at least, to Wellington ahead of time. The rest of the group would fly to Brisbane, Australia, for the September 8 Test against the Wallabies.

The All Blacks will be in New Zealand for three weeks, waiting for a Springbok team that will come off a series of exhausting flights between Johannesburg and Mendoza in Argentina; Mendoza and Johannesburg; Johannesburg and Brisbane; and then Brisbane and Wellington.

The plan to send a group of players to Wellington ahead of time was meant to be a countermeasure against a well-rested All Blacks team.

But complicated negotiations with overseas clubs and players who are still injured or need an opportunity to play after injuries could see this plan being abandoned by the coach.

Among the injured, the still recovering or those who need to improve their match readiness are Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Vincent Koch, Lood de Jager, Marcell Coetzee, S’'bu Nkosi and Warrick Gelant.

Erasmus will only send players to Wellington ahead of time if he is convinced he can still pick a side that is strong and experienced enough to beat the Wallabies in Brisbane.

The last time the Boks managed to beat the Wallabies in Australia was in 2013, a record that the Springboks are very aware of.

Erasmus attaches a lot of value to his relationships with overseas clubs, but if the Boks want to surprise the Kiwis with a win in New Zealand for the first time since 2009, they will need a world-breaker like Vermeulen.

He was one of the Boks' leading players in the series win against England. Vermeulen also lives for challenges such as the one waiting for the Boks in Wellington.

In Vermeulen's absence, Warren Whiteley has worn the number eight jersey for the past two Tests against Argentina. He is a quality player and a good leader, but is somebody who has different strengths to Vermeulen.

One overseas player that the Boks will have to do without in Brisbane and Wellington is Jan Serfontein, who hopes to make his return to the rugby field in October. Serfontein is recovering after a rare growth was removed from his leg.

His last Test was for the Boks, when they played against the All Blacks at Newlands in Cape Town on October 7. After that, he joined the French club Montpellier Hérault Rugby.

As matters stand, it is only Willie le Roux (Wasps) and Francois Louw (Bath) who will not be considered for the Rugby Championship home Tests against the All Blacks and Australia. They will return to their club sides after the Test in Wellington.

Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks) and Franco Mostert (Gloucester) should be available for the entire series. Jesse Kriel, who this week had to stay behind and was not in the group of 28 players who are travelling to Argentina, should travel with the Boks to Australia.

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