Who to replace Duane?

With veteran Duane Vermeulen set to miss the Rugby Championship, the AOR team debates who should claim the Springbok No 8 jersey.

Tank Lanning – Warren Whiteley
Vermeulen was monumental for the Boks against England. More than a game changer, he was a key component in a complete regime change.

As a package, he is simply irreplaceable, so looking ahead to the World Cup in Japan next year, having Vermeulen fit and available is a non-negotiable for Rassie Erasmus.

It also means that in the interim, the Boks need to box clever, with a view to having a plan in place should Vermeulen not be available, for whatever reason.

Warren Whiteley at No 8 is the obvious first port of call. Not only was he the incumbent Bok skipper, but also one of the very few shining lights to emerge during the Harry Crocker seasons of Allister Coetzee’s term.

I understand that one buys a dog if loyalty is desired, but out of sheer politeness, Whiteley deserves a shot at the No 8 jersey in the newly-created environment. I mean, even Elton Jantjies got a chance to prove us wrong.

Should Whiteley fail, then he will rightly be gone. But until then, I would employ him as the 8th man in the existing trio with Siya Kolisi (playing closer to the ball), Jean-Luc Du Preez and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Should that not work out, Erasmus could try a ball-hawk like Francois Louw or Marco van Staden at 6, with Kolisi playing a more roving role at 7.

The bottom line is that there is no like-for-like replacement for Vermeulen, so some sort of tweak to the side’s balance will have to be made – as was done to accommodate Kolisi, and that seems to have worked out pretty well.

Whiteley will add value as both a player and leader.

Zelím Nel – Jean-Luc du Preez
Rugby is arguably the nearest thing to war without live ammunition, and superior firepower wins a firefight.

A fan-favourite and reportedly the best leader since Lt Dick Winters, Warren Whiteley is more Air Force than Infantry.

Conversely, you’d need a can-opener to get Vermeulen into the cockpit of an F-16, and his epic contribution to South Africa’s series-victory against England came in the form of momentum-shifting tackles, carries and breakdown steals.

The return to fitness of the magnificent Malcolm Marx will add a big hammer to the pack’s Rugby Championship toolbag – potent in the tackle-fight, the hooker also leads Super Rugby with 15 turnovers won.

However, Marx cannot assume Vermeulen’s duties from the middle of the front row. The Boks need a like-for-like replacement at No 8, and Jean-Luc du Preez is the closest bet.

A heavy-hitter in the tackle fight, the Sharks thumper has good feet for a big rig and tops the Super Rugby list for offloads. If he matches that appetite for attack with consistent output on defence, the Boks will be in a position to plant their flag on the gain-line.

While the shortlist to fill the subsequent vacancy in the squad could include everyone from Gloucester’s Ruan Ackermann, to Bulls blindsider Thembelani Bholi, Stormers tall timber Cobus Wiese and Dan du Preez, the ideal candidate is 2017 World Rugby U20 MVP, Juarno Augustus.

This season, while working his way back from back and groin injuries in the Supersport Challenge, the hard-running Western Province No 8 has biffed opponents out of their boots like Obelix.

It’s a frightening admission that, with the possible exception of Hanro Liebenberg, none of South Africa’s loose forward options play with the itchy knuckles that make Vermeulen such a violent threat and psychological asset.

But the good news is that, when his eyes finally do go black, Du Preez has the physical tools to emerge as an enforcer. Whiteley does not.

You’ve heard what they’ve had to say, now where do you stand in the Big Debate?

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Jan L

    Well, I’m stumped, really. I guess both can do the job in different ways, but Thor stays the man. Haven,t seen any play by Augustus playing this year yet, but would have like Mitch giving Jenkins a run at no 8 for the Bulls though. Saw him putting the afterburners on during the U20 WC two years ago ( I think) and this fellow can burn the meters, nice beef and reach on him too. I wonder why we never reached out to Jacque du Plessis who is currently playing overseas, I recalling him playing lock, flanker as well as no 8 for the Bulls. Back to Warren and Jean-Luc, well Jean-Luc is sort of a type for type replacement but not as commanding while the flankers will have to be tinkered with (as well as the structure of play) with Warren there who is a more linking player and less commanding than Jean-Luc.

  • John Comyn

    I’m going to go with Zelim on this one. Whiteley’s value add is when he is captain. I guess it might be horses for courses but if you need big hitters then you cannot play Whitely and Siya together. For me it’s one or the other.

    • Wayne Martens

      Why are we trying to accommodate Siya, he is not an open side flanker and not tough enough for blind side,
      Whiteley at 8 , Jean-Luc at 7 and Louw or Van Staden at 6

  • Dr Hoffman

    What garbage! Where do u find these so called journalists?

    • boyo

      What a rubbish comment! Where do we find these so called Doctors?

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Any specifics, Doc? Perhaps your take on who should be the Bok 8 when DV is MIA?

      • Herman Schroder?

        Tank, Vermeulen was ”missing in action” last Saturday and we were playing for a clean sweep. After half an hour he was huffing and puffing and showing every bit of why Toulon decided it was time up. He played well in the first two tests, his two barnstorming runs of course magnified out of all proportion as is our wont when a player is just actually doing his job, but can he sustain it ?.

        So now he goes to Japan ( although he’s out on his feet ) then it’s probably off to Bath if one can believe the rumours, then he MAY grace us with his presence in the UK in November, then back to Bath until the WC. Wow I don’t know what Rassie needs to talk to him about he won’t even have time for the meeting, lol.

        No Sir Whiteley has decided home is where the heart is and Rassie needs to find 30 other players who have the same skills and sentiments. Rassie needs to make a decision about his game plan and also then pick players who can excel at it. If you are going ‘balanced expansive’ as Plan A then Whiteley and even Jantjies are no brainers.

        Conversely if its ‘dom krag 101’ then by all means pick the plodders and the Pollards of this world and hope for the best. In any case when the last Lion departs for greener pastures later this year there will be no one left to challenge NZ teams for a SR title so maybe it’s best if Rassie sticks to the game plan he is most comfortable with. I’m not sure if it’s going to improve our current world ranking though and let’s hope next year we don’t ‘celebrate’ ten years without an international rugby title. Rassie’s trials are just beginning so let’s hope he can seize the moment and surprise us with ‘real’ rugby. Cheers.

        • Frankie Knuckles

          Well you’re spot on about one thing at least- Jantjies IS a no brainer.

      • John Comyn

        Tank – there’s one in every 4 ball. My bet is you are not going to get a response from the Doc!

  • Wesley

    Whiteley oozes composure and classic no.8 with the vision to open up the opposition. Siya needs that man to the side he could bounce off leadership, and Vermeulen had that double edge of force and leadership. Whiteley has classic flair and leadership. What does Jean Luc or the others have? Bash bash bash? Is that all we are as a rugby country? Marx can bring the pain when needed. John Smit and Richie McCaw has shown, you don’t win World Cups with brute force and dumb leaderless rugby. Brains beats brawn.

    • Juan

      On the contrary, Wesley. There are very very very few small men who’ve made big impacts in world rugby and as long as Whiteley tips the scales at a paltry 100kgs, he’s simply too light in the pants to mix it with the all Blacks. I agree with Zel, JLDP will at least make opposition think twice about running down his channel. Whiteley will put you on the ground but won’t scare anyone.

      • Stanley

        But Whitely won’t be brainless when a gap open in front of him or choose the closest guy to run into. It all depends on what you prefer ..

      • Wesley

        Very very very few? Sadly mistaken friend. A whole list of them will certainly make you eat your words. But lets not waste time. And honestly, whats with the scaring? Have you ever played rugby? Fear is not something you have as a good player, and no one ever “fears” anybody because of their size and power only, but because of their skillset paired with their physique making them unique, and frankly Whiteley has many more skillsets to bring to the party than any other replacement for Duane. He will definitely put you down, and that’s all that matters. Tackle success rates and numbers speak for themselves. And with a good step for a 8, playing smart rugby makes him the better bet. No brains among the ears make you a liability.

        • Juan

          Cool, name 5 small guys who have etched their name in Rugby history.

          • Stanley

            Paulse, Cullen (NZ), Hooper (Aus), 2003 WC winning fullback from England …

          • Dean

            John, the fundamentals of the game have not changed at all. South Africans are obsessed with size, and it’s really got us nowhere in the “modern game” as you call it. Truth is the game has not changed all that much. Hooper and George Smith play in the “modern era” and are both considered small. What about Ardie Savea? He is 95kg! You can’t win this argument, skills and brains will always trump brawn. I can carry on naming players. The players you chose as your best are a matter of opinion. Are you seriously telling me that Gary Teichmann or Neil Back would be incapable of playing in the “modern game”? Lol you make it sound like these players existed centuries ago.

          • John Comyn

            Dean – I think Juan i referring to forwards and more specifically loose forwards. The trend in the modern game leans towards big players with good skills. An interesting exercise would be to select who the loosies would be in World 15. Maybe 6 Pocock 7 Sam Cane 8 Vermeulen/Read/ CJ van der Linda

          • Wesley

            Thanks Dean. Many more we can name here, but i think the point is made. Just one more… Richie McCaw. Now I know he wasn’t the smallest and was playing more 7 and not 8, but comparing him to other NZ loose forwards being 110kg plus actually makes him a lightweight. 107kg barely gets him over the line in terms of size. Never bashed his way over, he wasn’t “feared” when running at somebody. But had massive rugby brains. Made him the absolute best. And I still hate him for it… :)

          • Dean

            Gary Teichmann 100kg. Michael Hooper 101kg. Frank Bunce. Breyton Paulse. Pieter Rossouw. The list can go on forever.

          • Dean

            Shane Williams, Jason Robinson, Neil Back, Christophe Dominici and Christian Cullen, who is lighter than any of the current Bok back 3.

  • Rant

    Here, in my humble opinion, are my picks in order of preference with reasons:

    Duane: 1.93 m and 117 kg
    The mighty Thor has only 1 World Cup left in him. He is the muscle in our trio but also has good feet (his try against England is evidence) and great skills (see Quarters in WC as an example). He remains one of the best 8’s in the world and many teams fear his name. At one stage he was rated higher than Kieran Read, albeit for a short period.

    Whitely: 1.93 m and 100 kg
    Could he play in 2 more WC’s? A great leader and athletic player. I would have him on the bench to replace Thor when the game opens up a bit and he can provide some much needed calm and leadership in the dying minutes. What Warren can bring as an impact sub will be a fantastic switch in tempo and energy. He is skillful, quick and very smart.

    Augustus: 1.88 m and 111 kg
    He is one for the future. So much going for him. He can play the tight bruising game but also has great skills, feet, and pace. I think he is a balance of Whitely and Duane. And he also ticks another box. I would like to know how his captaincy credentials weigh up.

    JL Du Preez: 1.94 m and 113 kg
    I am not the biggest fan of JL as he seems more interested in using his strength than his head. Also lacks a bit on the skills front. But he could be a good bet going forward as a back-up to Augustus. Let the two youngsters learn from Duane and Warren.

    As a comparison, Kieran Read standing at 1.93 m and 111 kg has long been one of the best 8’s in world rugby. Cerebral, athletic, skillful and a fantastic leader. He is probably a perfect balance of Whitely and Duane.

    In summary, with Duane unavailable, I would say Whitely to start with Augustus and JL to be his back-ups. If Whitely gets injured we should back the youngsters.

    • Barry Smith

      I believe the article is based on the fact that Duane will not be available, as is the case for the next set of internationals, as he is committed to Japan!

      • Rant

        Did you read my summary? Clearly not. Read the final paragraph. I was merely comparing the options to make a decision. But ja some people speak before they hear/read the whole story.

        • Barry Smith

          Should we not have got only the final paragraph is my point!

    • Greg Shark

      Y&ou watch Jean-Luc DP play much? A few minutes in Bok jersey here and there and SR? Your comment on him is very indicative of you not being a “big fan” …… he has an incredible off-load (seldom dies with ball), good skills, for a big fella he steps pretty nimbly, has a fine turn of pace, makes huge numbers of tackles (and it hurts)…..and seldom misses the target….. at this time he’s as close to a Vermeullen as you will get

      • Rant

        Fair point. I admit I haven’t seen an aweful lot of super rugby due to living in England. But the times I have seen him he seems to drop the ball alot. But if he can sort that part of his game out then he will be good. Hence I have him as a future kingpin.

  • Barry Smith

    The question is probably more what Rassie is likely to do rather than what we think should happen! I don’t think Warren will get a free card into the starting line up as suggested. I believe he will have to re-establish his worth, as really should be the case! I think Rassie is fairly settled on Jean-Luc and Pieter Steph alternating at 7, so I am not sure he would move JLDP to eight. However I think his twin brother Dan has a good chance at 8 and probably Whitely on the bench. Some may see this the other way around, but as many have already pointed out, Warren concedes 15 kgs of mussle, which hangs heavily against him as a starter, particularly if the Captaincy stays with Kolisi!

  • Dean

    Jean-Luc is not an 8. He has been chosen as a 7. Why would we retread a 7 to number 8 at international level? Warren Whiteley in the right loose trio would work. I’d pick Whiteley, JL and Kolisi. Keep Notshe in the squad and have PS du Toit as cover for 7. Bring Francois Louw into the squad as a fetcher. The loosies will require an experienced player.

  • Nick.

    Like for like or the next best? 100kg is rather ‘lig in die broek’.
    Don’t you cut your coat according to your cloth? ie: have a strategy based around what talent is available? Sure, Whitely is a different player to vermeulen. Like Tank says, you cannot replace Vermeulen directly. nobody is currently Duanne mark 2.

    6. Kolisi; 7. Mostert; 8. Whitely. [l/fwd sub Ruan Akkerman]

    I personally feel we lack a traditional Bok 7. Big, tall, fast and nasty in the mould of Smith; Venter; Stoffburg, Smal etc. Maybe Vermeulen will land up there, it’s where he started.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Wesley and don’t forget the loose forward most feared by the All Blacks, our very own Heinrich Brussow. WE never lost to the All Blacks in his eight games and yet Heyneke Meyer ignored him and we all know what became of the Boks under him. Ja dom krag ruled supreme and size counted for nought.

    Also as I mentioned to Tank above here it all depends on Rassie’s game plan. If he sticks to dom krag 101 then you don’t need too many smart, fast thinking, skilled players you simply try to batter the opposition into submission with your bulk. You won’t win anything as we have found out these past nine years but who cares the ‘stampkar’ had a good outing.

    Test matches are tight affairs and it only takes a few well timed touches to produce a winning score. Whiteley has proved over and over again that he has the skills the rugby nous and not least of all captaincy skills to get the job done.These days you needn’t be bigger than your opposition just smarter. Cheers.

  • Nick

    Yes Herman. all true. We need to play smarter.
    But this is still rugby.
    We are not discussing the light touches of French literature here. And if we see rugby in that light we need to get out a bit more.

    • Wesley

      Yes I’m sure Nick, that Whiteley is a “French literature” kind of player. A player that was written off at every turn playing in Durban (stupidly), made it big pretty late in terms of age, and only with 17 caps, mostly off bench for the Boks, already having more leadership credentials and senior player status and experience than some players with 30 plus caps. That shows me something much more special than what guy with bulging muscles and no brain can achieve. Not saying the muscles aren’t important, this is a physical sport after all, but we have many that can enforce and bash already (Marx, Etzebeth, PSDT, Kolisi, and now RG also in the mix). Pumping your team with brawn but no brains makes you tactically weak and open to be exposed by smarter players like McKenzie, Folau, Hooper, Read, Beale, Crotty, etc. etc. All part of teams which value good thinking instead of up the middle stampkar we love to hail here in SA.

      • Greg Shark

        you know very little of what goes on in Durban and to put you in the picture….Whitely WAS NEVER spurned in Durban, the lions bought him straight off the assembly line (same as Combrink) before he could get going down Durban way. From way back, to much derision and laughter from the smart-arses that comment on these types of pages, I backed Whitely (plus 2 others at lions) to be a Bok and great captain in the Teichmann style.
        The big bashers are not particularly fond of nor play in the positions of the likes mentioned save to mention Hooper, Read and Crotty though they do a fair amount of bashing if one cares to look closely…

      • Herman Schroder?

        Wsley, once more the nail has been hit on the head. Good response. Cheers.

  • Nick

    It’s more in keeping with somebody who watches rugby rather than plays or has played it.

  • Chris

    Because D.Vermeulen score 1 try he is the best. But after 30 minutes he is already puffing. I will rather go with Warren Whitely who i think is much better then loop en val Vermeulen. Warren is also a better captain and leader then Siya or Vermeulen.

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