July 26, 2019 / 7:09 AM / a month ago

Rugby-Vermeulen completes journey from Japan couch to Springboks leader

WELLINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) - Duane Vermeulen was nowhere near South Africa’s surprise victory against New Zealand in Wellington last year, sitting in Japan and watching the test on television.

On Saturday the 33-year-old number eight will, however, become the 62nd Springboks captain when they face the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship clash that will likely decide the title in this year’s truncated competition.

“It’s a massive task, it’s an honour and such a privilege to captain the Boks and there’s only a few guys that have ever done it,” Vermeulen told reporters in Wellington on Friday.

“I think I’m number 62 so it’s not a lot in the South African history of the game so it’s a nice thing, but obviously you’ve also got to play the game so in a way there’s a bit of emotion but it’s controlled emotion.”

Vermeulen missed last year’s Rugby Championship because he said he needed a break from the game after three years in France and wanted to make sure he was in top condition for this year’s World Cup in Japan.

Having just transferred to Japanese club Kubota Spears, he watched the Springboks’ 36-34 upset of the three-times World Cup winners at Wellington Regional Stadium, with a couple of South African friends.

“It was a fantastic game to watch, tries all round, as a spectator it’s fantastic to see two teams go head on and not holding back,” Vermeulen added of last year’s match.

“I think as a supporter at that stage it was great to see South Africa get one up over New Zealand.”

The bullocking number eight felt what happened last year would have little bearing on the outcome on Saturday, with both teams trying different players and combinations ahead of the World Cup.

Both the All Blacks and Springboks will have just three players starting on Saturday from their lineups that took the field in respective wins over Argentina and Australia last week.

Coaches Steve Hansen and Rassie Erasmus have already said it would be an opportunity to test things ahead of the global showpiece.

“I think both teams are looking forward to this game preparation wise to see what the guys can deliver,” Vermeulen added.

“Last week, maybe tried out a few combinations and see who are the guys that are sticking up their hands and want to compete for a position for the World Cup.

“I think tomorrow’s going to be a massive clash, not just on the field but picking the sides, picking the perfect combinations so it’s going to be tough.” (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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