Duane Vermeulen is taking nothing for granted in what is a big year for South African rugby. Not his status as one of the senior members of the Vodacom Bulls team, nor his place in the Springbok squad for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
Quite frankly, Vermeulen’s succinct description of what it’s going to take for the Springboks to win the Rugby World Cup in Japan can just as well serve as his own philosophy for 2019: “If you’re not switched on on the day, you’re screwed”.
Now in only his second week of having traded Cape Town’s Table Mountain for Pretoria’s Klapperkop, Vermeulen is as switched on as ever for a Vodacom Super Rugby season he believes has all the ingredients for being a memorable one.
“What a fantastic start,” he said of the opening #SuperHeroSunday double-header in Cape Town, which launched the new collaboration with Marvel.
“It’s such a great initiative. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. That’s what it’s about – getting people excited about rugby like that. You saw kids and adults just as excited and it was so great to see the fans come out like they did.”
In what was his first game in the Captain America-inspired kit of the Vodacom Bulls, and against his former team the DHL Stormers, Vermeulen admits he did hear a few boos from the crowd whenever he touched the ball.
“Even if I had a few boos here and there, it was just great to play my first game in South Africa again in that atmosphere. We had such great support, and it was a good 40-minute hit-out for me. As for the team, the whole idea in these pre-season games is just to see how we play together and understand each other better. It was good to see us go through a few phases and score a few tries. You know, we just went out there to see if all the guys can connect and play together, and then it’s all about execution for us.”
But Vermeulen isn’t looking too far ahead into the season just yet.
“I’m just taking it step-by-step. You know, in a year like this, you cannot plan too far ahead. You’ve really just got to work hard, take care of your body, and be in a good mental space in every single game you play. And then you need to be ready to take your opportunities when they come. When it comes to the Springboks and the World Cup, my attitude is that it’s still a race for everyone, and it’s still open to everyone to pull on that jersey.”
And it’s a similar view that he has on the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup chances this year.
“You know, I don’t think there is a standout favourite to win this World Cup. I think there are about eight teams that can really compete for it. It’s pretty open. That makes it good for us, but it can also be a dangerous spot to be in because anyone can win it. So if you’re not switched on on the day, you’re screwed”.
But there’s another side to this season that Vermeulen is also looking forward to, and that’s the support they’ll be giving to CHOC (the Childhood Cancer Foundation) through the #TacklingCancer initiative. For every tackle made by a South African rugby player in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition, Vodacom and SuperSport will together donate R100 to CHOC.
“We’re supporting a great cause with CHOC this year. It’s good to be able to make a difference in this way. I think it’s going to be a great season all round.”
It’s certainly a big rugby year in Duane’s world. And he’s as switched on as he needs to be for it.
The Vodacom Bulls will be hosting the DHL Stormers on Saturday 16 February in their opening clash of the 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament. Fans can expect a lot more than just the hard-hitting, bone-crunching, try-scoring battle between these old rivals. Loftus Versfeld will be a buzz of activity on Saturday, with tons of activities for the whole family.
The after party continues on the D field with ALTERNATIVE IS GROOT, featuring Francois van Coke, Jack Parrow, Die Heuwels Fantasties and more.