VIDEO: Vermeulen injury opens door for Coetzee
REACTION: Veteran Duane Vermeulen appears to be the first major injury casualty ahead of the British and Irish Lions series against the Springboks in July.
South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus admitted the injury to Vermeulen ‘doesn’t look good’, after the World Cup-winning No.8 hobbled off in the Rainbow Cup encounter between the Bulls and Stormers at Loftus Versfeld this past Friday.
Vermeulen, 34 and capped 54 times by the Boks since his debut almost a decade ago, left the field just on the half-hour mark and immediately put ice on the injured ankle.
Bulls coach Jake White said in the post-match media briefing he was fearing the worst – a sentiment echoed by both coach Jacques Nienaber and Erasmus.
Erasmus said Vermeulen was on his way to Cape Town for a scan and they will have to “wait and see”, but it certainly looked bad.
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“He wouldn’t have limped off if it wasn’t serious, so we are unfortunately fearing for the worst.
“We always expected [injury setbacks] with the Rainbow Cup being strength versus strength and SA derbies are brutal.
“So far we have been fortunate, touch wood, and hopefully next week in the last round we don’t loose any players.
“We did expect some big losses and I expect Duane might be one of them.”
While Vermeulen’s injury will be a blow – as a result of the loss of his experience, physicality and leadership – both Erasmus and Nienaber felt there is more than adequate back-up, both in the squad named at the weekend and the fringe players around.
One of the big names to miss out is 30-times capped Marcell Coetzee, who returned from a long-term injury in the same match that saw Vermeulen injured.
“For us to draft a player in, it is just a day,” Erasmus told the media briefing.
“If we have an injury, the player can join the next day if he has a negative [COVID-19] result.
“Some of those players might be disappointed now,” he said of Coetzee, adding: “However, it is strategic to allow him to get more game time.”
Erasmus said the reason why European-based players like Rudolph Snyman and Lodewyk de Jager are not required to first have games when they come back from injury is because they have won the World Cup for the Boks and have played more than 20 Tests with the team.
“We know what we have in them and we know how to get them fit.”
Already in the Bok squad, named at the weekend, are players like Dan du Preez, Albertus Smith, Marco van Staden and the uncapped Jasper Wiese.
Erasmus said England-based Wiese “knocked the door down” with his form and won’t let the team down.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber suggested the World Cup Final squad will form the basis of the Test team against the British and Irish Lions.
“I won’t say it is out [a lost cause] for the other players,” Nienaber told @rugby365com.
“It would be stupid to suggest the guys who played in the World Cup is now second- or third-best. They have been there and done well in the past.
“[However,] if a guy knocks the door down in training, there is no reason why an uncapped player won’t start.
“I will say this much, the guys who were at the World Cup are certainly not showing a sense of entitlement. They are all working hard and playing well.”
He admitted those players that missed out – like Marcell Coetzee (who still needs game time after coming back from injury), Lizo Gqoboka (still injured) and John Schickerling (injured) – can still get a look in.
Coetzee played his first game when he featured for the Bulls against the Stormers this past Friday, after being out with an injury since early March.
“That is the advantage we have with a guy like Marcell [Coetzee], now playing in South Africa. He can play [for the Bulls] in the Rainbow Cup [next week’s final league fixture and possibly the Final], as well as the [Bulls’] encounter with the B&I Lions [at Loftus Versfeld on July 10].
“We might have more injuries.”That is when guys like that [Coetzee, Gqoboka and Schickerling] will make the squad.”