Duane deserves Japan payday

Craig Ray

Duane Vermeulen. Say those two words and you come over all warm and fuzzy. There is a sense of comfort in them because when Duane Vermeulen plays for the Springboks, everything is good with the world.

In fact, he’s become so iconic that simply ‘Duane’ will do. Everybody knows who you mean. It’s like saying ‘Richie’ or ‘Dan’, or ‘Sonny Bill’. No surnames needed.

Duane is one of those rare players whose performance seems to improve with every tier he climbs in the sport. At provincial and club standard he is excellent, but at Test level, when the stakes are at their highest, he takes his game to another planet.

The first two Tests against England were prime examples of his supreme ability to find that something extra in the white-hot heat of a Test battle, and come out on top.

Think of his performance against the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 2014, when he dominated playing with broken ribs. Or the break off the back of the scrum, taking two defenders with him, to set Fourie du Preez away for the winning try in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Wales.

Despite only having 41 caps, Duane is a huge asset to the Bok team. The Boks have won 73% of the Tests he’s featured in, which is nearly 10% higher than SA’s traditional winning average.

Duane has nothing left to prove at Test level. When he’s fit and hungry, he’s the best, most dominant No 8 in South Africa and the world. Only Kieran Read at his best compares.

The news that Duane is likely to play club rugby in Japan later this year, now that his contract with French club Toulon has come to an end, is no surprise. But there was an understandable and predictable gnashing of teeth.

It means he won’t be available for the entire Rugby Championship. He might only be allowed to play the Boks’ home Tests, depending on how his contract is structured. Bok coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed there may have to be some give and take with Duane. And, this is key, Rassie is okay with that.

I’ve had messages from some respected rugby people, livid that ‘Duane is allowed to pick and choose’ when he wants to play for the Boks.

I fully understand the sentiment and the idea that no player is greater than the team. But there are subtle differences in this scenario. Duane isn’t using the Japan move as some sort of leverage to demand Bok selection. He is out of contract, has been offered incomparable money in Japan that just can’t be matched in SA. He has shown his commitment in Bok colours on the field and, in the bigger picture, he will be fully engaged for the 2019 World Cup.

Playing in Japan will preserve his body, which, given the way he plays, could do with some preservation if we want him at optimum level at the World Cup.

In this day and age of SA players all over the world, the Springboks have to adapt to how they choose players, and simply putting every player in the same one-size-fits-all box is counter-productive.

Duane Vermeulen is no ordinary player and rugby is in an extraordinary age where players are paid millions at clubs all over the world.

Chasing good money doesn’t necessarily lessen their commitment to the Springboks when they are called on, but it does mean the decision to play for SA is not always as straightforward as blind patriotism. Duane’s commitment to SA and the Boks can never be questioned if you watch his performances.

Occasionally, a player has earned the right to be treated a little differently to the rank and file. Occasionally, a player is so valuable to the bigger picture that he should be allowed a little leeway to set his own agenda.

Duane has earned that right.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Rant

    Let’s be honest, Duane is one of the best players on the planet when is in shape and on form. Imagine the value he can add at the Japan world cup after playing on those very fields for a year? Likewise those players such as Kriel. This probably the best time to play in Japan to gain that knowledge and comfort in those conditions. Not to mention building some support from the locals.

    I hope he can get a contract to ensure he is available for all the Bok matches.

  • Sia Meleni

    We mustn’t forget duane has a family and duane is in his last days of rugby. As much as he is still committed to the bok jersey he also deserves the pay cheque he will get because that will secure his family’s future. And this will give whiteley a chance to prove himself if he can lead the Boks or he is average and that duane deserves the No.8. Remember this is all good and healthy because if whiteley does well then we will have duane as a impact player a strong back up to both no.7 and no.8 positions. This is healthy for both boks and duane. We do not need to over work him at this age he is in.

  • deme lucas

    Duane is 32 in 2 months so in his prime imo
    Look at Schalk Brits 38y and still going strong
    Victor Matfield etc its the players physical and drive and talent that still make them capable and wanted
    Carr is gone why cant the Stormers snatch him up.
    Yes Japan will be good for him but Saffas abroad gets forgotton by most people they hardly watch them play. But yes i see the points and opinions etc im just saying that would should keep what weve got.

    • Stanley

      I don’t know the details of his contract, but looking at other (SA) players in Japan it is not conclusive that he will be lost to a local franchise. He can still play the bulk of Superrugby if he so chooses of course (like Elton, Mapoe, Kriel etc.). He should make as much money as he possibly can before retirement as he needs to look after his family after his playing days

    • Mike Stoop

      The Stormers could not even afford to retain Carr. How will they afford Duane. The could sell Newlands to developers, as they reportedly have been forced to use Cape Town Stadium for tests in future. Then again, Thelo and his pals have probably sold it without telling anybody and used the money already.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Mike, The loss of Newlands stadium is practically confirmed already as the people WP rugby owe millions to are in the process of taking possession of it to force them to pay up. How Wakefield and Co have survived these past few years is beyond me. The Stormers have become a bit of a SR joke and Fleckie’s lack of coaching nous has been horribly exposed. A once glorious stadium with a wonderful history looking worn out and tired in the hands of the incompetents over the years and SARU just looks on without a peep.

        So the ‘white elephant’, which is what the CT Stadium effectively is and bleeding the Cape Town taxpayers dry,is to be used for a team and administration that are just plain useless. Unbelievably the long suffering supporters still pitch up in their droves at Newlands on occasion probably unaware of what’s actually going on behind the scenes at this once hallowed ground. It’s high time someone accepts responsibility for this fiasco and for heads to roll. Maybe if Wakefield trims his obviously bloated ‘entertainment’ budget the money could be used to pay the creditors, lol. Cheers.

  • hopeful

    We are going to have to get used to this….players are facing numerous challenges and like any other job earnings are your primary concern…..

    1.1 Careers are never a guarantee, when you are a hot commodity then cash in and cash in big…

    1.2 Players locally have a 50% team selection opportunity for the Springboks….the quota determines the international exposure so when you get then nod and excel….cash in!!

    There are a possible 7 to 8 positions available in the Springbok team available to non-players of colour….it’s no longer a choice of national pride or playing for honour it has now become a business decision….options are limited and chances are 50/50, paydays will supersede Springbok pride…

    A player like Duane is the best in his position which means he is a hot prospect, it’s an easy decision for him to earn….why not?

    Hell even players of colour should do the same….your time in the sun is limited and Springbok management/ selectors are synonymous for killing careers and overlooking “ALL TALENT”…..

    • Herman Schroder?

      Hopeful, It’s strange how Duane has suddenly become the ‘flavour of the month’. Firstly he never committed himself to SA rugby when Coetzee was in charge. He had a brief cameo against the Irish and was never seen again. Even under Heyneke Meyer the Boks were terrible, not that one can blame Duane for that. His form at Toulon in the last two years dropped quite a bit and at the end of this season looked out on his feet in Top 14 and the Championship.

      Suddenly, against what now appears to be a pretty weak England equally bushed after non stop rugby this past year, he blossoms into the blade runner and some are now calling him the best player on the planet. Kudos to him for pulling himself up by the bootstraps but imo he is not truly committed to SA rugby. He recently said he was committed for the next two years and now he’s off to Japan ?

      Players complain about the workload yet Duane want’s to carry on playing with no break whatsoever ? How jaded will he be when he finally condescends to play for SA again ? This smacks of another AB De Villiers ‘pick and choose’ arrangement and it does nothing for building a culture in the Bok camp, it only muddies the waters. Cheers.

      • Mike

        Did you watch Toulon over the last 3 years? DV was the best player they had, and that is saying alot given the amount of talent on that team. He was far from “out of form” as you say, Northern Hemisphere rugby is a different game compared to Super Rugby, everyone knows this. His form was perfect for the rugby he was playing.

        His brief appearances for the Boks over the last 2 years had nothing to do with his choice, AC and SARU made those decisions. We all know how great AC was at choosing players.

        He is far from the “flavor of the month,” he is as he has always been, the best #8 in rugby, bar none.

        • hopeful

          Mike well said and you literally stole the words from my mouth….

          I’m not entirely sure what top 14 was being watched but Vermualen is considered one of the best in his position.

          I say it again I am a fan of the Du Preez youngster and Jacques Du Plessis who I believe need game time, management and Duanes tutelage….they are our future…my only fear is Notshe is being primed as a token step up undeserved “right now” as a replacement at 8…

  • Herman Schroder?

    I must repeat my sentiments expressed on this forum a while back. The AB’s DONT use overseas players and their record as No 1 since 2009 is ample proof of a system that works. You either commit to the AB culture and systems or you are free to go and ply your trade elsewhere with their blessings. Why must we be different with all our talent available in this country.

    Rassie has just capped 16 NEW Springboks all locally produced but you go overseas to fill half your run on team if all were available ? Good luck to the other troopers busting their guts each week in SR. Let the exodus begin. More than half of the all conquering Lions team of the past three years have been snapped up with probably the rest to follow before long. Our SR teams are doing badly as it is so we can ill afford to not look after the faithful back home.

    You cannot build a Bok team culture when your overseas players are at the mercy of their employers and, when given permission to play for the Boks, they come over here at the last minute, jaded as hell to contribute to the cause. Don’t take what has has happened in the two England tests as a counter argument, we are judging them against the pitiful state of Bok rugby before Rassie and it must still be proven that the corner has indeed been turned with the RC coming up.

    Build it ( from within ) and they will come. Local is lekker !

    • Rant

      Herman, interesting argument here. I believe though that you cannot compare the Boks to the AB’s. Simply put, the coaching and management structures in New Zealand are far better than the systems in SA. Therefore, they can get away with selecting only locally based players as these players are the best and next logical in line. They also then benefit from knowing that by staying in New Zealand they receive the best coaching, best treatment and thus their stocks locally are better than leaving.

      Now, despite me saying to the contrary earlier, compare this to SA rugby. Our local coaches and systems are so poor that any player will take longer to develop if at all. Their stocks stay low unless they are very special or seek greener pastures. Thus we are creating a need for us to look abroad for players. You can blame this on whoever you want, but imagine being the Bok coach, seeing how terribly the SR teams are doing and being coached, and seeing your stalwarts and others abroad being coached well and lifting their games.

      In a good system, we would get away with selecting only locally based players, but as you said, they just aren’t performing in the SR, so why should they be selected?

      Anyways, that’s my 2 cents, take it or leave.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Rant. Thanks for that well measured response. In essence you are saying the problem lies with our own structures which includes poor administration, poor coaches and low standard players. I agree with that except to say the poor admin and coaches are producing the low standard players. Under a decent system with all our latent talent we can produce a team of world beaters imo.

        That is why I’m saying that importing these overseas players en bloc for internationals only serves to paper over the cracks. Rassie picked a squad of 43 players and recently handed out 16 new caps to players most of whom I agree have played pretty poorly in SR. Rassie can’t rely on the overseas guys to fill all the vacancies ( being mostly ‘white’ and all ) so we have to still pick predominantly from the local pool anyway. So then why not go the whole hog and only pick the locals and build a team culture to to take the Boks forward ? Don’t forget Rassie has seven to eight overseas players in his sites so who knows where that will end come the WC.

        It’s obvious that huge changes must come for us to climb back to the top of the world where we briefly spent a few months back in 2009. Rugby people must run the game, transformation agendas must be scrapped, world class coaches need to be brought in and then, with our huge pool of players correctly managed, we can succeed. What’s happening now is pure ‘window dressing’ and is not sustainable. Cheers.

        • Rant

          Good points. I agree that going forward we really should sort our systems and coaches out. Once that happens we definitely have the talent in SA to be the best team in the world. As you like to remind me often, the Lions have had a few excellent coaches the last few years and have shown the way for SA franchises. I still believe that they have a small group of talented players who are world class, but the majority are not world class, instead, they are well coached. This proves (in my opinion) that when we get it right, we can beat the kiwi teams (and NZ by extension) more regularly.

          It is evident that we agree for the most part (as South African sports fans) that the inherent issue is far deeper than just (to steal your comment) papering over the cracks with some developed players and a decent Bok coach.

  • Nick.

    I’m afraid you are right Herman. Absolutely. The vast majority must come from within. We might get poorer and poorer as a country, but we have a strategic advantage in terms of the ‘natural resources’ of players we have in SA. In real terms better/more than anywhere bar France and England.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Nick. Thanks for the response and I believe Rassie has now found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He needs results and he has to stick to quota requirements while retaining as many of the local rising stars as he can. The inclusion of these overseas players in the Bok setup actually complicates matters imo. For example calling up Brits was taking this whole overseas thing too far. The guy will be 38 next year, is retired and obviously has had enough rugby. What message does it send out to the others back home ?. His other problem is that they are all ”white” and will take up valuable test match ‘development’ time for the locals. Methinks he may be painting himself into a corner here. Cheers.

      • Rant

        Very true about Brits. It was a poor decision in my opinion. We could have had Robbie Coetzee getting experience in the Bok fold. We know that Rassie has targets. Transformation, results, etc. It is obviously difficult but I think he has done the right thing (apart from Brits) to get some experienced guys from abroad (it’s only 3 players) to help develop the youngsters. We could even argue that Faf was chased away from SA by Allister Coetzee and the Lions both preferring Ross Cronje.

        Yes, we may have some world class players in SA, but they need to be developed. Look at the Wales game, when a load of youngsters were thrown in at the deep end and they sank. This shows that we need to offset the lack of experience and ensure we build a balanced team that can perform well.

        At the end of the day though, I don’t care if the squad are all based abroad, in SA, black or white or even blue. If we start winning I will be happy. And yes, one swallow does not make a summer. Hailing the Boks as resurgent or resurrected after 2 wins is just absurd. It is a good start, but we have seen this before.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Hi Rant, I have responded to your comment in the thread just above this one which covers some of the points brought up by you on this one. If I might just add that Rassie showed a bit of arrogance when he expected that team to beat even a weakened Wales team in the USA. I said it would fail and regrettably I was right. It may still come back to haunt him if the Boks don’t kick on from here.

    Remember he did get it wrong in the England first test and was saved by their failure to protect their lead and the Boks having a good measure of the ‘rub of the green’. If not we would now be looking forward to Newlands with a lot more trepidation than is the case now. I’m glad you alluded to that in your above post. Cheers.

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