Roos with a chance to own Bok No 8 spot

SPRINGBOK loose forward Evan Roos during the team practice gets a chance to own the No 8 spot left open by Duane Vermeulen. | EPA

SPRINGBOK loose forward Evan Roos during the team practice gets a chance to own the No 8 spot left open by Duane Vermeulen. | EPA

Published Jun 22, 2024


THE retirement of Duane Vermeulen from playing rugby will still be keenly felt this season when the Springboks kick off their international season this weekend.

That is according to former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers.

The 37-year-old Vermeulen hung up his cleats last November after helping the Boks defend their Rugby World Cup crown in France, concluding an illustrious career with 76 Test caps. The former No 8 lifted the Webb Ellis Cup twice with the national team, captaining the Boks on as many occasions, as the team’s recorded 62nd skipper.

He was also honoured as SA Rugby Player of the Year twice (2014 and 2020), won the Rugby Championship in 2019 and the Currie Cup in 2021. He was a monumental figure for the Boks as both player and leader in a Bok career that spanned 11 years, and as alluded to by De Villiers, his absence will be difficult to replace and replicate.

Not that the former Bok captain believes the talent to do so doesn’t exist, for as De Villiers surmised this past week at the launch of the Betway 12th Man workshop, there is a deep pool of loose-forwards to call upon.

The Boks play Wales today, and coach Rassie Erasmus has selected world cup winners and veterans Kwagga Smith and Pieter-Steph du Toit to pack down on the side of the scrum, while Evan Roos will pull the No 8 jumper over his head and carry that responsibility on his shoulders.

Roos – now considered far more mature and less reactive after a commanding season in the URC for the Stormers – can make a statement of intent at Twickenham (kick-off 3pm).

Ireland, after all, is now just on the horizon and with Jasper Wiese out of contention due to sanction, there is an opportunity to give Erasmus pause in thought when selecting his squad for that tour.

Vermeulen, meanwhile, has taken up a coaching role within the Bok set-up and it was while discussing the possible make-up of the loose-forwards moving forward, that De Villiers made some salient observations.

“I think there is a massive void with Duane not being there,” De Villiers said.

“He has been a shoe-in for so long. Jasper is not available for the first three Test matches so suddenly you have to look at a Roos. Phepsi Buthelezi is in the mix as well but I think he is a little bit further down the pecking order.

“But Cameron Hanekom just blew it all wide open (against Leinster last weekend) with this performance. He showed that in a pressure game, against quality opposition, he does not stand back.

“It was an amazing all-round performance – carrying, tackling, jackling – everything that he did was just so superior against Caelam Doris, who is a world-class No 8. He will definitely come into the reckoning.”

Hanekom will surely have another opportunity today to further impress and elevate his stock when the Bulls host the Glasgow Warriors in the URC final at Loftus Versfeld.

In spite of this wealth of talent, De Villiers also expressed a belief that Erasmus and Co will most likely not look beyond the irrepressible talents of Smith when it comes to eighthman, especially for the two-Test series against the Irish in July.

Said De Villiers: “The one guy that people tend to forget about is Kwagga and what he has done. I won’t be surprised if he starts at No 8 in these Test matches. He brings a massive impact off the bench but we must not forget what he can do as the eight as well.”

Overall, De Villiers is pleased with the Bok matchday 23 that will run out today, saying: “I think it is a strong team. I think the youngsters within the squad are surrounded by enough experience to help with totally different pressure situations and there is a good element of form in the selections.”