Springbok No.8 Duane Vermeulen wants to play a more prominent role with ball in hand for the Stormers in the 2014 Super Rugby season.
As a by-product of the Stormers’ defence-centred approach and the fact that Vermeulen missed much of the Cape side’s disappointing 2013 Super Rugby campaign due to a knee injury, the 27-year-old had precious little opportunity to stretch his legs in a Stormers jersey last year.
He showed what a powerful and proficient ball carrier he is upon his return from injury for a Springbok side that showcased a much-improved attacking game and is one of the favourites to win the SARU Player of the Year award.
Looking ahead to a season in which the Stormers will be determined to return to the play-offs after a seventh-place finish last year, Vermeulen said he’s keen to take on the role as go-to ball carrier, with his Springbok teammate and regular Stormers battering ram Eben Etzebeth sidelined for most if not all of the season with an ankle injury.
“As a player you always want to improve and so it’s nice when you get to carry the ball up. Sometimes you feel like you’re just a big dummy runner in the middle of the field and that’s something I don’t want to do, I want to have more of the ball,” Vermeulen said on Tuesday.
“We’ve also learned not to run as straight as we in South Africa tend to do and I’m looking forward to getting more ball.”
Widely regarded as the second best eighthman in the world behind All Black star and 2013 IRB Player of the Year Kieran Read, Vermeulen said he’ll take a gradual approach to becoming a more complete player this year.
“There are always aspects of your game you can improve on; ball-carrying, offloads and so on, but I’m happy with where I am at this stage. I’ll continue to take things step by step rather than trying to make a giant leap.”
He confirmed that the Stormers will not veer from their much-maligned gameplan but will strive to strike a better balance between attack and defence.
“We’ll always strive to improve our attacking game but defence is very much part of who we are and what we stand for. We wouldn’t want to neglect our defence and focus too much on attack, so it’s about striking a balance, but I think we’re in a good place this year.”
Vermeulen admitted it was bitterly disappointing to miss out on a place in the play-offs last year. However, he said it led to introspection and notable improvement over the course of the Currie Cup.
“It was a big one [rude awakening] for the coaches. We had problems with our attack but in the Currie Cup, we made a big step up and hopefully we can continue where we left off in that regard,” he said.
“We worked really hard on our attack in the Currie Cup and made solid strides in that department right up to the Final, where we were given a bit of a lesson. We also made some minor tweaks that we picked up on during the competition.”
Having had more than his fair share of injuries in recent years, Vermeulen hopes for an injury-free 2014 and feels the Stormers’ depth and luxury of being able to implement a squad rotation policy will help prevent injury setbacks.
“The break was good; three weeks were more than enough. For someone like me a week is enough otherwise I rest too much. I’m feeling fresh, so hopefully I can play a full season for the first time in a long time,” he said.
“If you don’t give someone an opportunity, you’ll never know what he’s capable of, so rotating is a very good thing. We have a very good squad this year, not just at loose forward but at prop and lock as well, so some new guys will get opportunities and it’ll be nice to see what they make of it.”
Vermeulen added that the recent training camp in Hermanus was a perfect way to kick-off the year.
“I’m very excited about the upcoming season. We had a great training camp and the spirit in the squad was awesome. There was a few new guys in the mix as well and it was good to see what they are capable of and I think the coaching staff were able to get a feel for what the newcomers are all about,” he said.
“Robbie Fleck and some of the senior guys discussed exactly how we want to attack and defend this season and so far everything’s on track. We’ll obviously only have a real indication of where we are after the first warm-up game.”