AUDIO: Huge competition for Bok No.8 spot
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Competition among the Springbok starting team is heating up as preparations for the Rugby World Cup in Japan fast approaches.
One position which truly provides head coach Rassie Erasmus with a good selection headache is that of eight-man.
The two players fighting it out for the Springbok No.8 jersey are of course Duane Vermeulen and Lions captain Warren Whiteley.
Vermeulen signed from French Top 14 giants Toulon to play for the Bulls during the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Both Vermeulen and Whiteley bring plenty of experience to the South Africa squad and both are part of the Springboks leadership group.
Whiteley has 24 Test-caps to his name compared to that of Vermeulen’s 46 Test-caps.
Vermeulen has the added experience of playing for different teams having previously played for the Stormers’ up until 2015 and then playing for Toulon from 2016 until 2018.
Whiteley has guided the Lions to three consecutive Super Rugby finals from 2016 until 2018 and he captained the Springboks in 2017.
In terms of playing style Whiteley is an athletic skilful player who likes to run with the ball and offload in the tackle while Vermeulen is more of a destructive ball carrier who can spark moments of brilliance with the ball in hand.
Looking at Rugby World Cup experience, Vermeulen was part of Heyneke Meyer’s 2015 Springbok Rugby World Cup team who finished in the third position.
Vermeulen played a vital part during South Africa’s run to the semi-finals, with just five minutes left in the Springboks quarterfinal clash against Wales, Vermeulen created a moment of magic as he offloaded the ball in the tackle and sent former South Africa scrumhalf Fourie du Preez over for the match-winning try.
Both Whiteley and Vermeulen are hard at work with their respective franchises preparing for the start of the Super Rugby season which gets underway on 15 February.
Speaking to journalists at the Lions training session in Johannesburg, Whiteley explained that he has plenty of respect for Vermeulen and knows all to well what to expect from Vermeulen.
“I don’t think [Vermeulen’s presence at the Bulls] motivates me more because two years prior to that he was at the Stormers and we played against each other quite regularly, so for me it’s no different, to be honest.
“I’ve always said I’ve got a lot of respect for Duane that will never change,” said Whiteley.
Whiteley added that he is a team player and he is always up for the challenge whether he has the pressure of competition for a starting place or not.
“I’m always motivated regardless of the [competition for starting place]… doesn’t change a thing when it comes to my motivation,” said Whiteley.
Perhaps Whiteley and Vermeulen will form a powerful loose trio combination for the Springboks and start alongside one another.
Whiteley and Vermeulen played together in the same loose-trio during the Springboks 15-16 loss to England in November 2018 with Vermeulen wearing the number seven jersey while Whiteley started in the number eight position.
Whiteley and Vermeulen combined well enough during the loss against England to suggest that if given more time playing together they could be the perfect loose-trio combination alongside flank and captain Siya Kolisi.
By Josh Isaacson
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) January 18, 2019