JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Key South African looseforward Duane Vermeulen says there is a new positive atmosphere around the Springbok camp since a change of coach and hailed the choice of former Stormers team mate Siya Kolisi as stand-in captain.
Vermeulen, 31, was among the top candidates to lead South Africa in this month’s three-test series against England after injury ruled out both Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth, who had skippered the side over the last year.
But Kolisi was chosen ahead of him, the first black player to lead the Springboks in a symbolic move that is wholly merited, according to Vermeulen.
“He’s a great choice. He’s a good leader and I think a lot of guys look up to him” the Toulon player told a news conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, on and off the field. He’s a really great guy and a guy that can inspire this group of people.
“I always knew that there was something special about Siya, even during those early days at the Stormers.
“As it is with younger players, it took him a few seasons to understand his game. That said, he’s always been someone I’ve respected both on and off the field.”
Vermeulen also praised the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as coach in March for lifting the mood around the team.
“Last year, it was almost as if one coach was coming to the end of his tenure. I remember coming into the squad and you could tell by the players’ body language that they weren’t in a good space,” he said.
“There’s a new energy about the group this year, with a new coach in place and a new style of play on the cards.
“I’ve got a burning desire to play for the Boks. I’ve walked a long road with Rassie and he’s taught me a lot about the game. He’s the right guy to take the team forward. Even at this stage of my career, I feel that I have room to grow and that Rassie has more to teach me.”
Vermeulen, whose three-year contract with Toulon is up, is expected to be named on Thursday when Erasmus picks his side for the first test at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Christian Radnedge