Fresh start: Duane Vermeulen says the mix of new and old players in the Springbok squad is positive. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI/GALLO IMAGES
Fresh start: Duane Vermeulen says the mix of new and old players in the Springbok squad is positive. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI/GALLO IMAGES

His most recent exploits in the Springbok jersey served to momentarily plug the holes in erstwhile coach Allister Coetzee’s sinking career at the helm of the national team.

Now Duane Vermeulen admits he has walked into an environment without the debilitating uncertainty that seemed to enshroud the Springboks’ European tour that yielded two wins and as many defeats at the end of last season.

In November 2017 Vermeulen joined the Bok squad in Paris following their humiliating defeat to Ireland and his impact was immediate as they beat France and Italy on consecutive weekends. When he left they lost to Wales.

"Last year was kind of the end of one coach’s era. I just don’t know how to say that‚" Vermeulen said on Tuesday.

"The guys were in a difficult set-up. After losing to Ireland‚ when I walked in there, you could have felt that there was something different. The guys were down in their body language. You [could] see there was something missing‚" he said.

Six months can be a long time in international rugby‚ so when he joined the Boks last week‚ the change was palpable. "This year we have a new group. There is a new vibe with a young bunch of guys.

Fresh start

"Everyone is keen to start the season fresh. Hopefully, we can change something‚" said Vermeulen about the Test series against England that kicks off at Ellis Park on Saturday.

With the Bok group having ballooned to 43 with the addition of hooker Bismarck du Plessis and utility back Frans Steyn (who will be rested this weekend)‚ Vermeulen admits he is making new friends every day.

"There’s a lot of youngsters — some exciting new players. I suppose you have to spend a little bit more time with them. Every day you sit with a different guy and try and see what makes them tick on and off the field."

Apart from new teammates‚ Vermeulen also has to report to a new coach.

No introductions were needed here‚ however‚ as his relationship with Rassie Erasmus goes back to the days when they were based in Bloemfontein.

Familiarity, and even over familiarity, have helped forge a stronger bond. "We come a long way‚" said the No8. "I have an incredible amount of respect for the guy. He taught me most about rugby.

"We’ve clashed heads. That makes you stronger. I’m not yet done learning. He’s the right guy to take us forward as players."

Since joining Toulon‚ he has played two Tests each in 2016 and 2017. Amid murmurs of him moving to Japan‚ Vermeulen’s future in Bok colours for the remainder of 2018 is unclear.

He could not say whether he will only be available for June’s three-Test series against England. "At the moment I’m here to play for the Boks‚" he said, sidestepping the issue. "I don’t really know what is going to happen. We still need to sort that out. I will know by the end of the June series."