Vermeulen missed the June Tests due to a knee injury he sustained in the Stormers’ 15-21 loss to the Waratahs in Sydney in May but returned with a vengeance.
His form in the Rugby Championship, which saw him go blow for blow with All Black counterpart and IRB Player of the Year Kieran Read, and during the November internationals made him one of the standout Springboks of the season.
The 27-year-old’s consistently influential performances saw him make the green and gold No.8 jersey his own and landed him on the shortlist for the prestigious SARU Player of the Year award along with Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth and Willie le Roux.
Vermeulen said he’s pleased with his 2013 form and with the improvement and development of the Springboks, who won 10 of their 12 Tests over the course of the year and hopes to go from strength to strength next year.
“I really enjoyed the year. I had some good games and the end-of-year tour was very enjoyable,” said Vermeulen, who capped the year with a try-scoring performance for the Barbarians against Fiji at Twickenham.
“We achieved good things and grew as a team. We pulled in some youngsters, which was great for us on the end-of-year tour and helped make it a memorable year.
“I’m very happy with where I am personally and with my form and the focus now shifts to making sure I build on my 2013 performances when Super Rugby kicks off in February.”
Despite his physical and abrasive style, Vermeulen said he’s injury and niggle free but admitted he’s looking forward to a timely break.
“I actually just played half a year of rugby so I’m still good to go but it’s nice to get a break and I feel it’s come at the right time,” he said.
“It’s also good to know where you stand with the coaches and to just get away, rest and come back fresh for a full Super Rugby season.”
The Stormers eighthman said the loss of prodigious lock Etzebeth to an ankle injury was a major setback for the Cape franchise and their hopes of claiming a maiden Super Rugby title next year.
Etzebeth sustained the injury in the Springboks’ final Test of the year, a 19-10 win over France in Paris last month, and underwent surgery that will keep him on the sidelines for approximately six months.
Vermeulen said that while it’s disappointing to lose a key player for most or all of the Super Rugby season, it’s an opportunity for a young player to stake his claim and make his mark at Super Rugby level.
“It’s a massive blow for us. What Eben has done over the past two years and how he’s developed in that period is incredible, but it’s important to try to look past that,” said Vermeulen.
“Teams have to play without their Springboks all the time. For us, the Currie Cup is a stepping stone to Super Rugby so I’m looking forward to seeing a new face on the field and seeing that youngster coming through.
“Eben undoubtedly leaves big shoes to fill but hopefully we can get the player who fills that void up to speed with our structures and his role within those structures quickly.”
Vermeulen added he’s confident that the Stormers will bounce back next year after a disappointing 2013 campaign in which they failed to reach the play-offs (finishing seventh) and relinquished the South African Conference trophy they’d won in 2011 and 2012.
Vermeulen said the key for 2014 success is to set clear goals and to map out their journey with great detail.
“You have to set clear long and short-term goals for yourself,” he said.
“Everyone wants to win a trophy but there are steps to achieving that and we possibly didn’t outline our path that well this year.”
“We’ll brainstorm and discuss how we’re going to approach next season but we’ll be sure to take things step by step.”
By Quintin van Jaarsveld