Duane Vermeulen this week announced his retirement from rugby after an incredible career for both club and country. The 76 capped Springbok came to epitomize the physicality of the Springboks whilst embodying the discipline and humble principles that go along with the true legends of the game. I have no doubt that our Thor will be added to the Rugby Hall of Fame in due course and I also have no doubt that he is the greatest player to have ever donned the #8 jersey of the Springboks.
Starting his career at the Pumas as long ago as 2005, Duane has worn the colours of the Cheetahs, Western Province, Stormers, Toulon, Kubota Spears, Bulls and Ulster throughout his illustrious career. He earned his test debut in 2012 and went on to represent the Bokke over an 11-year period which has seen him lift the Rugby World Cup twice, win a British & Irish Lions series as well as the Rugby Championship and the various cups that go with it.
No one will forget Thor’s Man of the Match performance in the 2019 final in Yokohama, but he was equally influential in the campaign in France where he managed to beat off strong competition for the 8 jersey to be the starting 8 in our back to back World Cup triumph. There has been no better custodian of the jersey over the last 11 years and the likes of Jasper, Evan and whomever else may join the fray, have certainly got their work cut out for them in trying to fill his boots.
So what is next for Thor? Rumors were circling that he may turn out for the Stormers for a last swan song in the URC and Champions Cup. These have sadly fallen flat with his announcement earlier this week. It was only when chatting to Ronnie on the Podcast (which you can find here) that he proposed what is actually the most obvious of solutions here.
Rassie Erasmus has taken over the coaching reigns for the Springboks again. Part of the next four-year cycle will be the rebuilding of the coaching structures as his right-hand man, Jacques Nienaber has officially moved to Leinster.
Jacques is definitely one of the top, if not the top defensive coach in the world. It was off the back of his tactical defensive nuances that the Springboks managed to withhold a 10-minute England onslaught in the 2019 final and again hold the All Blacks out in France four years later. His absence leaves a huge hole in the Springboks and one that needs to be filled.
There are a number of top quality South African coaches that would be lining up for that position, but none who jump to mind as serious defensive masterminds. This is where Rassie and his out the box thinking may just come to the fore, yet again. Duane Vermeulen, say it once, say it twice and you quickly realise he could be the perfect person to fill this void.
Duane is already intimately familiar with the Bok set up, Duane has the respect of both players and fans for the role he has played for the Bokke. To top it off, his stints in the coaching box during the 2023 tournament may have already been a masterstroke from Rassie as he was testing the waters. There can be no doubting of Duane’s capabilities in this department as a player and with Rassie there alongside him to manage the transition, I see no reason why he couldn’t step up to the plate and become the Boks defence coach long term.
I think Ronnie is on the right track here and I do believe Duane may be best suited to the role. One of the most crucial elements behind the Springboks success has been their jovial, tight knit team environment. Re-inserting a legendary cog of this already functioning machine, albeit it in revised role, makes more sense than hiring in from the outside.