No plan for life after Duane?

It took a lifetime for Duane Vermeulen to break into the Bok side, says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, yet now there is seemingly no “Plan B” for life after the monster 8th man.

Tank Lanning

Do you remember how long it took for coach Heyneke Meyer to bring Duane Vermeulen into the Bok side? Both Keegan Daniel and Willem Alberts were given a run at 8th man before bringing the Nelspruit born Chuck Norris of rugby in to play the Aussies in September 2012. This after sticking with Pierre Spies like pig poo sticks to a blanket. The same Spies who now cannot find a spot in a 49 man Bok squad.

Since then Vermeulen has not missed a Test and goes head to head with Kieren Read in the race for a spot in the Planet Earth XV to take on Mars. Until last Saturday that is. Hence the need to implement the plan for life after Vermeulen …

After an excellent Super Rugby season, Warren Whiteley was given a run against a makeshift World XV. While doing nothing wrong, he had a quiet game. So after the single start, he is now dropped not to the bench, but from the entire match day squad.

And now according to Meyer, 8th man is Schalk Burger’s best position, so he is going to be given a trot in the only change to the run on side that did duty last week. So if No. 8 is Burger’s best position, why has he not played there before?

Rotation is not about playing the next best when the incumbent is injured, it’s being brave enough to rest your first choice and give the next in line a run so you can test your back up plan and grow squad depth.

Did Meyer have a plan B for life after Vermeulen? It does not look that way.

Speaking of over playing incumbents. Would it not have made more sense to leave both Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira at home to pump some iron and trot along the Durban beaches?

Where last week’s game at Newlands not a friendly, Du Plessis would have been forced into a break via suspension for his cowardly and unnecessary clean out of Bakkies Botha. Just based on that, he should be carrying bags this weekend. Or do the Boks only have to be disciplined during big games?

That notwithstanding, by playing him every week, are we not pushing ourselves into a similar corner to the one we find ourselves in with Vermeulen? Some would say his form and discipline issues alone should see him fighting for a position rather than owning one, but would a logical rotation not see Vincent Koch, who did nothing wrong last week, start, with Frans Malherbe on the bench?

On the other side of the front row, in Heinke van der Merwe we have a man that can certainly scrum! And with reports suggesting he has been in great form in France, it’s great to see him getting another stab at the cherry after debuting for the Boks in 2007. But why not behind Trevor Nyakane who benched last week, but is now a tourist in Brisbane?

Props can definitely have an impact off the bench, but the true test of their ability comes via a start. So what will Meyer actually learn by having Van der Merwe and Malherbe on the bench? He is playing his starting front row into the ground with developing a credible back up plan.

Next week we play the All Blacks at home in a game that will drive massive interest. Would an away game against an experimental Australia side in a Rugby World Cup year which sees the Rugby Championship downgraded to a side show, not have been a better game to try something new?

Teams for Saturday:

12:05 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 James Slipper

Bench: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill, 20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Drew Mitchell

Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira

Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo


  1. Tank

    You need to reflect on your comments.

    Duane Vermeulen was in fact injured during the 7 tests that Meyer picked Spies at no.8. Meyer has always stated that Vermeulen is his preferred no.8. Once Duane returned from injury Meyer’s first choice loose trio consisted of Vermeulen, Alberts and Louw, with Marcell Coetzee on the bench.

    At no stage did Meyer pick Spies over Duane. You are confusing Peter Divvy’s term as coach with that of Heyneke. It was Divvy who picked Spies over Duane for 4 years straight.

    So you in fact owe Heyneke an apology with regard to your incorrect opening statement.

    For the remainder of Heyneke’s term Spies was injured. It was quite reasonable to assume that Heyneke viewed Spies as his backup no.8, should Spies have returned from injury in top form. Credit to Heyneke that once he saw that Spies was indeed not at the required form after the last Super 15 tournament, he looked elsewhere.

    Most likely his next preferred option is Alberts, but since he is also injured, Schalk is next in line in Heyneke’s mind. Giving Whitely a run was probably just an attempt to spread the net even wider, given that Schalk himself has only recently returned from a long term injury.

    So, far from Heyneke not knowing what he is doing, his pecking order at no.8 is in fact crystal clear:

    1. Duane Vermeulen
    2. Willem Alberts
    3. Schalk Burger
    4. Whitely/Arno Botha/Spies

    Other than you disagreeing with his pecking order, which is your right, I don’t see what else you are miffed about.

    1. Thanks Rugbyfan. Pertinent points re me confusing Divvy’s term with Heyneke’s. Apologies.
      So if Burger is above Whiteley in the pecking order, and it’s become a big problem with DV having neck surgery, why not play him last week?
      Or if it is indeed between the two, for such a key position, why drop WW from the squad entirely?
      Any comments on the second half of the column which discusses the front row and HM’s want to play hist first choice players to death at the expense of building squad depth?

  2. Hi, Tank.

    Good article, and I agree with most points. I think HM is making a MASSIVE error in judgement by not allowing the young guns to showcase their obvious talents on the grand scale. Let the young men play and gain that experience, so that when the team is faced with an injury to HM’s obvious favorites in such critical positions (TH and LH), then we have adequate, capable, and blooded players to take over or deputize. Jannie has not been performing enough to warrant a starting position, much less a squad ticket. We all know there are players who outperform him (and sometimes Beast too). Yet he is clearly the incumbent, much like Spies was back in the day. Do we see a Springbok future for Jannie post 2015 World Cup? I really hope not… Really…


  3. Hi Tank

    I agree with your comments in second part of column, regarding front row and no 8. Onto Jannie, that move on Bakkies in a world cup game, if not sent off on field, would definitely resulted in an siting and suspension afterwards. Which would be the best case scenario, a 10min sin bin or even red card would be fatal. But that doesnt seem to worry anybody in the springbok management.
    Although only the first game in the international season it would appear as if “name” players are being selected even if they play out of position, and inform specialist players are over seen, just because they dont have a name in springbok rugby as yet, or dont come from the right franchise.
    To mush banking is been made on the assumption that big name players will be fit to play in the 11th hour. And they will slot right into the squad and perform at their best with no training and no game time, simply because they have talent and have played international rugby before or even WC. And what if that idealistic world doesnt realize, then there is no backup, no young players who has been given the opportunity to play and grow in the build up to WC.

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