Vermeulen fires another broadside at SARU

Thu, 03 Nov 2016 10:42

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Veteran Springbok loose forward Duane Vermeulen may be talking himself into retirement from the international stage.

For the second time in a month, Vermeulen has opened about the 'administrative chaos' bedevilling the game in South Africa.

When he was left out of the squad for the year-end tour, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee suggested Vermeulen had said he was 'not fit enough for Test rugby'.

However, it is becoming more obvious by the day that Vermeulen's provocative stance and outspoken nature is at the heart of his 'axing'.

Despite missing the Rugby Championship with a knee injury, the 30-year-old loose forward has returned to action for French giants Toulon and was this week named in the Top 14 Team of the Week.

It all started three weeks ago when Vermeulen became the first player to publicly speak out about the rot that is destroying South African rugby.

Vermeulen, in an interview with the Times Media group, was particularly critical of the administration and political interference.

Despite the positive media declarations in the wake of last month's coaches indaba in Cape Town and coach Allister Coetzee's public declaration that the Springboks will never lose their aura, Vermeulen suggested that nothing has changed and will change until the real issues are addressed.

In an interview published in the Daily Telegraph Vermeulen said he was standing up for the players who are 'too scared' to speak out in the fear of victimisation - again admitting that he is aware his stance will have consequences.

"You always get former players talking about the game," Vermeulen told the London-based broadsheet newspaper.

"You never hear current players say anything about the game, but we are the guys who are really in there and see what is happening.

"Maybe I am the first active player to voice their opinion, but that is a good thing.

"I just wanted to stand up for the players. Other people feel they cannot say anything. If that hinders my opportunity to be selected then so be it. I stand by what I said. It is just giving people the facts of what is going on."

Vermeulen again highlighted the lack of leadership from the top as a key issue, despite the recent changes on the South African Rugby Union executive council - which has seen Mark Alexander replace Oregan Hoskins as SARU President.

"The most important thing is that people should pull in the same direction," he said.

"At the moment it is just chaos. Everyone has their own agendas.

"That's my opinion. That's how I feel and how I felt within the set-up."

He is adamant that - despite the indaba and leadership changes - the bigger issues remain unsolved - particularly how to stem the exodus of players to foreign leagues.

There are an estimated 350 South African professional players abroad, including a third of Coetzee's squad.

The falling value of the Rand means that South Africans can effectively more than double their wages by moving to Europe or Japan.

Money is only one part of the equation, however, and Vermeulen is convinced more can be done to retain and recruit talent.

"There are 40 players who will take us into the next World Cup and SA Rugby should do as much as they can to get those 40 players, even if they are playing abroad, back and get them within the structure," he said.

For all its supposed glitz and glamour, Super Rugby is also a hell of a slog, spent mainly travelling whether to Japan, Argentina, New Zealand or Australia.

A straightforward, albeit controversial solution, would be to align with the northern hemisphere club competition.

"It is definitely an option," Vermeulen told the newspaper.

"It's something new. You might have more viewers. The other thing is that also it is the same time zone so there is not a lot of travel. It is a night flight the following morning and you are here. I think that is a thing they can really look into."

Vermeulen is both optimistic and pessimistic about what the future holds.

"You are going not to turn the ship that quickly," Vermeulen said.

"Hopefully guys will be pulling in the same direction. Everyone wants to lift the World Cup in 2019. I still would like to be a part of it. I spoke my mind. I took that chance. We'll have to see what happens."

Sources: Daily Telegraph & Times Media