UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP : Tough tackle – Duane Vermeulen braces for a brutal homecoming

UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP : Tough tackle – Duane Vermeulen braces for a brutal homecoming

The Springbok No 8, who takes his nickname from the Norse god of thunder, could not have asked for a more fitting welcome upon his return to South Africa. Earlier this week, an epic storm replete with unseasonal thunder and lightning tore across the Cape Town skyline.

Duane Vermeulen is back in the country with Irish club Ulster, which will tackle the Stormers and Bulls in the United Rugby Championship (URC) over the next fortnight. He laughs when images of flashing skies and rolling thunder are presented to him as a sign of violent things to come. And yet, the 61-Test veteran is relishing the prospect of facing former teammates at the Cape Town Stadium and Loftus Versfeld.

Vermeulen represented the Stormers between 2009 and 2015, taking the captain’s armband in his final season with the team. 

After returning from a stint in France, Vermeulen played for the Bulls between 2019 and 2021 – and led the side to Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup titles during this period. 

Tackling old teammates

A few eyebrows were raised when he left the Bulls in late 2021 to take up a contract with Ulster. Since then, the Belfast-based side has recorded some important results, and they remain well placed in the Champions Cup and URC.

Their position in the latter competition, however, may be compromised if they lose both of their matches in South Africa.

Vermeulen is determined to steer Ulster to historic wins in Cape Town and Pretoria. At the same time, he is hoping to prove a point to those who doubt his ability.

“These games are going to be bittersweet,” Vermeulen told DM168. “I guess there will always be a few people who call you a traitor for leaving the team and for taking a contract overseas. On the other hand, there are still a lot of people who continue to support me, and who understand why I have moved on.

“Either way, I’m looking forward to these matches. It will be great to catch up with some old teammates, and to play against them,” he said.

Springbok coaches Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus will be watching these clashes with interest. The 35-year-old veteran, who was so integral to South Africa’s success at the 2019 World Cup, has committed to playing through to the next global tournament in 2023. Some have suggested, however, that younger No 8s such as Evan Roos (Stormers) and Elrigh Louw (Bulls) may be better suited to the task.

“I’m looking forward to facing those young guns,” Vermeulen said. “I’ve found that, as an older player, you’re often under pressure to prove yourself against these exciting youngsters who are pushing for your spot [in the national team]. I enjoy the challenge.” 

Duane Vermeulen of Ulster looks on during the Heineken Champions Cup match between Northampton Saints and Ulster Rugby at Franklin’s Gardens on 16 January 2022 in Northampton, England. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Weathering the challenges


…. to be continued
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