CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Duane Vermeulen took some time to mature as a player of real international quality but can now be counted among the best loose forwards in the world.
The burley 29-year-old, who has cemented the number eight position in the South Africa side but is equally adept at flanker, will be a key figure for the Springboks at the World Cup.
Vermeulen adds muscle to the scrum, is a ferocious ball carrier and unyielding in defence, with a work rate that appears near impossible for a man of his size.
He was touch and go for the tournament after undergoing neck surgery in July, which meant that he has missed the entire international season to date.
Coach Heyneke Meyer believes that Vermeulen is not only 100 percent fit again but is well rested and looking in formidable form going into the tournament.
“Duane is world class, which was underlined last year when he was named the SA Rugby Player of the Year and nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year Award,” Meyer told reporters recently.
“He is one of the leaders in our squad and since making his debut in 2012 has become an integral member of the team.”
A bear of a man, Vermeulen's rugged looks belie a player of such skill with ball in hand while remaining a potent weapon at the breakdown.
Yet his chance in the national team was a long time in coming. Vermeulen had five years in Super Rugby with the Cheetahs and Stormers before he was handed his debut by Meyer in the 2012 Rugby Championship.
His has been a regular ever since, always in his favoured number eight position.
England were given a painful glimpse of Vermeulen's potential at the end of 2012. He carried the ball superbly, put in 15 bone-crunching tackles and won a number of turnovers to help the Springboks to a slender 16-15 victory at Twickenham.
It was a performance that showed Vermeulen had arrived as an international player.
His game has only improved since then, culminating in a landslide victory as 2014 South African Rugby Player of the Year and gaining one of the five nominations for the global award.
Vermeulen has won 29 caps since his debut three years ago and recently signed a three-year contract with French Top 14 side Toulon, who he will join after the World Cup.
Editing by David Goodman