Duane may have a point, but he’s part of the problem
When it comes to the lot of a current Springbok, Warren Whiteley said it best this week.
“I have been in a similar situation before,” said the “runt” who had to travel far and wide in South Africa to play first-class rugby, and to lead the Lions to the Super Rugby final and play for the Boks.
“I’ve played in a team that has been on the wrong side of results and has struggled to get momentum, [a team] that has stuck to [its] guns and eventually turned a corner. I’m in it for the long run. The results might not go in our way, but if we stay consistent in what we want to achieve, it will come.”
Whiteley strikes one as a guy who’s wandered into a brawl not exactly of his making, but decided to stay in the fight to help his mates out. Duane Vermeulen’s recent utterances suggest that, when confronted with the same situation, he decided to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
Vermeulen told the Daily Telegraph last week: “At the moment, it’s just chaos. Everyone has their own agenda. That’s my opinion. Maybe I am the first active player to voice their opinion. I just wanted to stand up for the players. If that hinders my opportunity to be selected, then so be it. I stand by what I said. It is just giving people facts of what is going on.”
While it’s nice to have an insider confirm what all of us have been saying – that things aren’t quite right in South African rugby – I still can’t help but think Vermeulen and his “protest” are part of the problem. Based on the paucity of obvious candidates for the captaincy once Adriaan Strauss departs the scene, a limp-wristed defence, a shambolic approach to the breakdown and an apparent inability to win collisions, the Bok team lacks two things – leadership and attitude.
These are qualities the man nicknamed Thor has always had in abundance (remember the day he took on the All Blacks with a rib cartilage injury and emerged as man of the match in a game in which then world player of the year Kieran Read was playing?). Hearing players speak reverentially of Vermeulen’s demand for high standards in training, he strikes me as a colleague you punch way above your weight not to disappoint. But what use is his influence from outside the team?
Whether he likes it or not, Vermeulen is in a different position to keyboard warriors like myself in that, as a player, he is in a position to roll up his sleeves and do something about the malaise of the Springbok team. By giving the impression he is waiting for the stars to be aligned before he can lend his considerable weight to the cause, he is no different to those who bitterly criticised the Boks all year and then turned down invitations to be part of the solution at the coaches’ indaba.
We like to gently rib Bryan Habana for seemingly wanting to play for South Africa until his mid-40s, but this week he limped into the Bok camp to help. South African rugby needs all hands on deck, and Vermeulen’s sizeable pair could help shape some kind of recovery.
Some might ask: “What if Vermeulen wants to help, but is being barred for his outspokenness?”
But reading his Telegraph remarks, when he says “if it hinders my opportunity to be selected”, it’s already after he hadn’t been selected for the end-ofyear tour.
Playing for Toulon, he is in the great position of not having to care what the suits think because his future will be taken care of financially, which may have informed his so-be-it attitude. But little engines that think they can, like Whiteley, can’t say the same for themselves, so they have to keep working at the problem. I’d hate to drown with Vermeulen around because he’d describe how choppy the water is when I need someone to fish me out by the dreadlocks. M I N F O E N T