There’s little doubt about Vermeulen’s ability at No 8. He is strong and powerful, is an option in the lineouts and does everything required of a top-class eighthman. His 2014 season saw him scale new heights and it was no surprise when he was among the nominees for world rugby’s player of the year award.
Vermeulen has had no equal among No 8s in this country for some time. Pierre Spies’ injury problems ensured that, but in Lions captain Warren Whiteley there’s a new name being bandied about as a real option for Meyer to consider when the World Cup squad is selected in August.
Whiteley has followed up a stellar 2014 with an equally excellent 2015 season, leading the Lions to a record nine wins in Super Rugby. His leadership abilities, humility and general play have resulted in many pundits singing his praises too.
While both players could eventually be part of Meyer’s World Cup squad, there will only be place for one come match-day and that’s likely to be Vermeulen – a proven operator at the back of the scrum and the type of player that Meyer likes. He’s a bruiser, a man who’s prepared to run through and over his opponents to get his team over the gain-line, a man who’s deceptively fast and mobile and extremely reliable in defence.
Vermeulen’s also strong and dependable under the high ball and for such a big man – standing 1.93m tall and weighing 116kg – he’s got an uncanny ability to make a good few turn-overs during the course of 80 minutes. And, let’s not forget about his ball-winning ability at the back of the lineout.
Whiteley weighs just 105kg, but his impact on the game is just as influential. The 27-year-old was the leading tackler in Super Rugby last year, with 181 tackles and a success rate of 97.8%, and he’s again the runaway leader in this department this year. He’s made a staggering 217 hits so far, with a game to go, and will again come out on top. Vermeulen, for all his muscle, has made a mere 66 tackles.
It’s this aspect of Whiteley’s game that has made Meyer sit up and take notice. The Lions skipper is a real work-horse, who gets around the field like no other player in his team. If he’s not tackling, he’s linking with his backs, making off-loads and passes – something that’s been the hallmark of the Lions game this year.
Like Vermeulen, and any No 8 worth his salt, Whiteley’s also a lineout option for his hooker, but he’s also shown he can read the opposition by stealing throws anywhere in the set-piece.
South Africa’s leading No 8s will go head to head at Newlands on Saturday in a Super Rugby clash of huge importance. The Stormers need to win to bag the SA Conference title and their place in the knockout rounds; the Lions have to win to keep alive any chance they have of qualifying. There’s plenty on the line for both teams and for Vermeulen and Whiteley.
Meyer will be watching proceedings very closely. - The Star
Original source: Meyer will be watching Duane, Whiteley