Duane Vermeulen is ready to launch back into action in the green and gold for the first time since the Rugby World Cup final in 2019 after making a full recovery from surgery to his ankle, and the experienced Springbok No 8 says he will continue to give his all for his team and country.
Vermeulen missed the Castle Lager Lions Series as well as the Tests against Georgia and Argentina in the last two months on his road to recovery, but the powerful No 8 – who earned the Man of the Match award in the World Cup final and was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year in 2020 – is back in the thick of things at training and is expected to play a key role as the Boks attempt to defend their Castle Lager Rugby Championship title.
While he was positive on the road forward, Vermeulen admitted missing the opportunity to line up against the British & Irish Lions in the Springbok jersey was a disappointment. He played twice againt the famous touring side in red jerseys in 2009, for DHL Western Province and the Emerging Springboks.
“It was tough missing out on the Castle Lager Lions Series,” said Vermeulen, who has 54 Test caps for South Africa.
“Playing against the British & Irish Lions was one last item on my bucket list that I missed out on. But fortunately, I was part of the squad and being on the field as a water boy had me pumped up.
“I’m now looking forward to running out there with the guys (in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship), training and putting in the hard yards with the squad.”
The powerhouse admitted that his ankle injury was worse than initially suspected, but that he was delighted to be able to contribute to the team during the historic series.
“My injury was a bit more severe than everyone thought,” said Vermeulen.
“I wanted to be back for the first Test against the British & Irish Lions, and I tried hard, but I spoke to Jacques (Nienaber, Springbok coach) and told him that I will drop the team if I play. I tried to get fit for the following games, but I wasn’t able to play.
“That said, sitting on the sideline and running water allows one to get into the coaches’ heads and it offered me the opportunity to contribute by conveying those messages to the players, so that was a nice way to get back into the squad. And now I’m ready to go.”
When quizzed on the possibility of holding on for another Rugby World Cup appearance in 2023, Vermeulen said: “I’ll keep pushing as long as I can until I can’t keep up anymore.
“I told Jacques I’ll try my best, but if he sees that I can’t keep up, he must sit down with me and tell me it is time to move on.
“For now, I am still pushing hard and trying my best with my team-mates, and I’m giving my best for my country, and if that pushes me to another Rugby World Cup, then that’s fine with me.”
Vermeulen was encouraged with the strides made by the Springboks so far this season after missing out on international rugby since the World Cup final, but he said as with any team there was room for improvement.
“One can always improve,” said Vermeulen.
“We took small steps starting with the Georgia Test, then the SA ‘A’ side matches and the first Test against the British & Irish Lions.
“It was nice to see the guys getting continuity even though we slipped in the one Test (against the British & Irish Lions). From there on in we’ve been taking one step at a time in the right direction.
“We still have a lot to work on because of the time spent apart (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), but hopefully we are moving in the right direction.”
Munster Confirm Three New Signings
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the signing of Oli Jager from the Crusaders with the tighthead prop signing a contract until the summer of 2027.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke is rejoining Munster on a short-term contract with back three player Colm Hogan also returning on a short-term deal.
Jager will join the province in the coming weeks with his contract beginning at the start of December.
Born in London, Jager started out at Naas RFC before playing schools rugby at Newbridge College and Blackrock College. He lined out for the Ireland U18 Schools team in 2013 before moving to Canterbury in New Zealand at the age of 17.
Initially attending the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, he earned a place in the Crusaders Academy in 2014. After impressing with New Brighton RFC, he earned a place in the Canterbury squad for the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016.
Jager made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2017 and has been a key member of their squad for the past seven years, winning seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.
Eoghan Clarke spent three years in the Munster Academy before departing for Jersey Reds in March 2021. A former Ireland U20 international, Clarke won the English Championship with Jersey Reds last season before the club went into liquidation last month.
Colm Hogan, who has lined out for Ireland U20 and Munster A in the past, played his schools rugby with Glenstal Abbey. He captained Dublin University in the AIL and also had a spell with Colomiers in the PRO D2 while studying in France.
The 26-year-old played for Leinster against Chile last year and lined out with recent Munster arrival Alex Nankivell for Tasman Mako in the NPC this year.
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Key All Black announces sabbatical to play in Japan
All Blacks captain Sam Cane will take up a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract in 2024 to play a season for Suntory in Japan League One.
The 31-year-old, 95-Test loose forward will miss the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season with the Chiefs, but will return to New Zealand in June to be available for selection to the All Blacks for the 2024 Steinlager Series and Rugby Championship campaign.
Cane, who is contracted to NZR through to the end of 2025, said he was looking forward to experiencing a new playing environment with Suntory and learning more about a new culture in Japan.
“When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time following the Rugby World Cup to try something new and also a great chance to continue to grow and learn in my rugby and life journey. I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for their support to take this opportunity.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs, but I know the team is in a great place and has an incredible group of leaders in the squad and the coaching group to have a successful 2024, and I’m really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks.”
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said:
“Sam’s decision to take a sabbatical in 2024 has our full support and we wish him and his family all the best for their time in Japan. There are very few players who have given as much as he has to the jerseys he’s worn in his career to date and it’s a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said:
“Sam has given everything to this team on and off the field and deserves to take this opportunity to experience something different. He is an exceptional player and influential leader who has been an integral part of the Gallagher Chiefs for many years. We wish him and his family all the best and hope they enjoy their time in Japan after a full-on year.”
Key All Black commits to Gallagher Chiefs until 2025
Dominant loose forward Luke Jacobson has extended his contract with the Gallagher Chiefs, Waikato and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2025.
The 18-test All Black was a consistent starter for the Gallagher Chiefs this year and a key element of their outstanding DHL Super Rugby Pacific performances. He consequently went on to be named in the All Blacks squad to travel to France.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is delighted to have Jacobson sticking around for another two seasons.
“Luke is an outstanding player; he’s a workhorse, a consistent performer and considered a real warrior within our group. Luke leads by example both on and off the field. He isnt one to waste words and prefers to let his actions speak for themself. In the absence of some senior players who have moved on, I have no doubt Luke will play an integral part providing the leadership and guidance our younger players will be looking for”.
Jacobson has impressed throughout his career, playing for the New Zealand U20s team twice and captaining them in his second season to win the 2017 U20 World Championship title. This aptitude for leadership has seen him pull on the Gallagher Chiefs captain’s armband on multiple occasions.
Waikato Rugby head coach Ross Filipo is excited about Luke extending his career with Waikato. “He is a great man and a great leader who continues to make huge contributions on and off the field and always represents the region with pride.”
Speaking on his signing Jacobson said: “I’m stoked to signing on with the Waikato, Chiefs and NZR for another two years. I love representing these teams and am very proud to be able to call myself a Waikato/Chiefs man and also and All black. I’m hungry to succeed with these teams and tick off a few unticked boxes.”
The 2024 Gallagher Chiefs squad will be named later this year ahead of assembling for pre-season training.