‘Springbok great' and 'hard man’ Duane Vermeulen calls time

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander pays tribute to 'superb ambassador'

08 November 2023 - 19:06
By Mahlatse Mphahlele
Springbok great and double world champion Duane Vermeulen has called time on his career.
Image: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images Springbok great and double world champion Duane Vermeulen has called time on his career.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has hailed Duane Vermeulen as a “Springbok great” upon his retirement. 

The 37-year-old Vermeulen walks away from the game with his head held high as a double Rugby World Cup-winning No 8 and a former captain of the national team. 

His highly successful Springbok career spanned 76 Tests and over 11 seasons but he could have come within touching distance or even clocked a century of appearances if it was not for injuries. 

He started 68 of his Tests in the No 8 jersey, played three times at flanker and five times off the bench where he scored three tries for South Africa. 

Vermeulen, who hails from Mbombela in Mpumalanga, made his Test debut in Perth, Australia, in 2012 and concluded his international journey in the 2023 Rugby World Cup final win over New Zealand in Paris. 

Among his accolades are the SA Rugby Player of the Year Award in 2014 and 2020. He is part of an elite club of only five players who have won the award more than once since the advent of professionalism. Other players who have won it more than once are Schalk Burger (2004, 2011), Bryan Habana (2005, 2007, 2012), Fourie du Preez (2006, 2009), Jean de Villiers (2008, 2013) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (2016, 2018, 2019). 

“Duane will forever be regarded as one of the real hard men of South African rugby. He was not only a formidable force for the Springboks but also a multifaceted player who consistently delivered his best,” said Alexander. 

“As someone who preferred to operate away from the limelight, Duane was one of those players who never settled for second best and always gave everything he had to his team. 

“He was a leader who captained South Africa in four Tests, but he also retired as the most-capped Springbok No 8 with two Rugby World Cup winners’ medals. A wonderful achievement for a player who will be remembered as a true legend of the sport.”

Vermeulen made his senior provincial debut for the Pumas in 2005, the year after he matriculated from Hoërskool Nelspruit.

He was wanted by the Bulls but remained loyal to the Mpumalanga-based union and never represented South Africa at junior level. 

Vermeulen played for the Pumas in 2005 and 2006 before he was lured to Bloemfontein by SA Rugby’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, who was then still head coach of the Free Staters. He made his Super Rugby debut in 2007, two months before he turned 21. 

In 2009, he followed Erasmus and Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber to Cape Town where he played for Western Province and the Stormers. 

In the same year he got his first taste of international rugby when he was selected for the Emerging Springboks against the touring British & Irish Lions in the Mother City. 

In 2010, he was included in a preliminary Springbok training squad as part of the preparation for the end of year tour, but he made his Test debut only two years later after struggling with injuries. 

Those injuries saw him miss out on possible selection for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. 

He also played club rugby overseas for Toulon in France (2015-2018), the Kubota Spears in Japan (2018-2020) and Ulster in Ireland (2021-2023). 

“Duane made a massive impression wherever he went, and looking at his achievements all over the world, it’s clear that he was not only a Springbok great but a superb ambassador for South Africa,” continued Alexander. 

“I know Duane still has a lot to give back to our wonderful game, but as his playing career comes to an end, on behalf of the entire South African rugby family, I would like to thank Duane for his selfless service to his country and the Springboks, as well as to his provincial unions. 

“I would like to wish him, his wife Ezel and their two sons, Anru and Zian, the best for their future.”