The pecking order of world rugby’s eighthmen has been exhaustively debated around South African braaivleis fires.
All of us appreciate the silky skills of the likes of New Zealand’s Kieran Read and Italy’s Sergio Parisse, but would we really swap the DHL Stormers’ Duane Vermeulen for either of them?
Vermeulen isn’t flashy, but his trademark take-no-prisoners performances make for compelling viewing. He’s a fearless and forceful defender, who is also very adept at winning turnover possession at rucks.
Every now and then we see an off-load pass, but his coaches don’t want him to try and make that his core business. “Stick to what you’re good at” is the mantra. Or, in his case, what you’re really good at.
“I don’t think you have to change, but you can improve,” says Vermeulen. “Every guy has his playing style. That is what got you to where you are. It’s what makes you unique and special. I’m happy with my approach. I do make the odd off-load, but I just want to jol!”
That he does with aplomb. And, as is the case with any world-class player, he’s continuously striving for perfection.
“You have to set your goals, and mine is to be the best. You’re not in this business to come second,” says Vermeulen.
“If you’re not striving to be the best as an individual, how will the team ever reach that goal? Every one of the 23 players in a team must share the dream of achieving something noteworthy.
“It’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of if there is someone ahead of you. Your way has been paved. It’s all about choosing the right path.
“You have to take it step by step. When I started out, I wanted to play in the Vodacom Cup. I progressed to the Currie Cup and after that I wanted to play Super Rugby, so I joined the Cheetahs. Rassie Erasmus then brought me to the Western Cape when he was appointed as the Senior Professional Coach here.”
Vermeulen signed his deal with WP at the end of 2007 and is now in his seventh season with the DHL Stormers. His form has never dipped in that period and he has distinguished himself as a great team man.
The bruising 27-year-old’s passion is fuelled by the unwavering support the team gets in Cape Town. While times have been tough, the Newlands Faithful has still been out in force.
“It’s amazing to see how many people are proud WP supporters through the good and the bad times. It’s sad that we have disappointed our supporters, but we’re determined to turn the season around. It’s not too late,” says Vermeulen.
Injuries have played a big part in the DHL Stormers’ struggles this year, but Vermeulen is encouraged by what he has seen from the likes of Nizaam Carr and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
“Nizaam has grabbed his opportunity with both hands. He’s made a statement of intent that he wants to remain in the starting line-up. He was already one of WP’s best players in last year’s Absa Currie Cup competition.
“Notshe’s got great skills and feet for such a young guy. It’s amazing to see what the youngsters bring to the party. There’s so much energy about them and it’s a lot of fun jolling with those guys,” he says.
“The youngsters have learned a lot from the seniors, while we’ve enjoyed sharing our knowledge and lapping up their energy.”
Whilst Vermeulen has been a terrific mentor for Carr and Notshe, there is another youngster who has demanded a lot more of his attention.
Little Anru Vermeulen was born on September 19, 2013 and Duane could not be a happier dad.
“It was a little difficult in the beginning. There were sleepless nights,” he says with a broad smile.
“But now he’s a treat. He’s seven months old, weighs 11kg and is a little machine. He eats like a monster, but I must say it’s really nice to be a dad.”
What would be really nice, of course, is a resurgent DHL Stormers in the second half of the Super Rugby tournament. Vermeulen is determined to deliver on that front.
“The last thing you want to do is end up at the wrong end of the league table,” he says. “We’re going to fight with everything we’ve got to finish as high as possible.”
DHL Stormers Matchday Magazine