Nic Groom is the incumbent and the combative scrum-feeder will charge courageously into the friendly against the touring Jaguares like a Labrador rescuing a tennis ball from the shore break.
Vermaak will have to produce something that hasn’t been seen from him since he arrived in Cape Town last year, and that something is a compelling performance.
The journeyman scrumhalf played three Springbok Tests between 2012 and 2013 and spent two seasons with Toulouse before joining Western Province last year.
The 30-year-old has wowed in training, but was forgettable during the Currie Cup, making just one start and missing four games with a finger and groin injury.
Groom and the Stormers need him to return to form this year, and both parties will be hoping that a nowhere-to-hide scuffle with veteran Martin Landajo and the jostling Jaguares will fire up Vermaak.
Groom has been sleeping with the No 9 jersey under his pillow ever since Dewaldt Duvenage left for Perpignan in 2013. The Rondebosch old boy needs Vermaak breathing down his neck to spur him on, and the Stormers need both to keep all the balls in the air while a mobile back row adjusts to a new look backline and a more open style of play.
The point of difference with Vermaak lies in his ability to make a consistent, tactical contribution while Groom negates a six-year shortfall of experience with a tireless work rate and an unshakeable can-do attitude.
The gap between these two and the chasing pair of Louis Schreuder and Godlen Masimla is not too big to bridge, with Schreuder needing to add elements of Groom’s grit while Masimla, formerly a wing, would benefit from emulating Vermaak’s refined skill-set.
Robbie Fleck will on Thursday name his squad and, while all four may feature on Saturday, it’s unlikely that more than one of the Stormers quartet will experience Landajo’s gamesmanship before the 53-Test veteran makes way for his understudies, halfbacks Gonzalo Betranou and Felipe Ezcurra.
The backup No 9s were included in the 34-man squad unveiled by coach Raul Perez yesterday. The Jaguares will arrive in town on Wednesday, face the Stormers on Saturday (kick-off 4pm) and take on the Lions at Ellis Park one week later.
The Pampas took part in the Vodacom Cup in 2010 and 2011 and the experience of playing in a competition that moves from sea level to the Highveld appears to have influenced the Jaguares’ approach to the Super Rugby season.
Their first match in the competition is against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on February 26. When they line up for that match, the tourists will have been in the country for a fortnight, and most of that time will have been spent at altitude.
“It is great challenge that lies ahead,” said Perez. “The two friendlies against the Stormers and Lions will be a true test. We will be looking to give all 34 players a chance against the Stormers and Lions before that match against the Cheetahs.”
Flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez, lock Juan Cruz Guillemain and wing Manuel Montero are three members of the Jaguares official 30-man squad who were missing from yesterday’s list.
It is not clear why they have been omitted as Perez has drafted in seven players not originally named in the official squad, including Betranou and Ezcurra, props Felipe Arregui and Cristian Bartolini, hooker Santiago Iglesias Valdez, lock Ignacio Larrague and wing Thomas Carrio.
Arregui, Bartolini and Larrague are uncapped, while Iglesias Valdez is the most experienced of the incoming group with 11 Tests under his belt.
Aside from Ezcurra, the remaining six players represented an Argentina XV against the USA in Houston last Saturday in John Mitchell’s first match in charge of the Eagles, which ended in a 35-35 draw.
The Jaguares will also be bolstered by Lucas Amorosino next week after the 44-Test Pumas fullback signed a two-year contract with the Argentina Rugby Union at the conclusion of a brief stint with Munster in Ireland.
JAGUARES 34-MAN SQUAD FOR SOUTH AFRICA
Matias Alemanno, Felipe Arregui, Gabriel Ascarate, Rodrigo Baez, Cristian Bartolini, Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Thomas Carrió, Santiago Cordero, Agustín Creevy, Jerónimo De la Fuente, Felipe Ezcurra, Santiago García Botta, Santiago González Iglesias, Ramiro Herrera, Santiago Iglesias Valdez, Facundo Isa, Martin Landajo, Ignacio Larrague, Thomas Lavanini, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Thomas Lezana, Pablo Matera, Julian Montoya, Matías Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Lucas Noguera, Matías Orlando, Javier Ortega Desio, Guido Petti, Nicolás Sánchez, Leonardo Senatore, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Joaquín Tuculet - Cape Times
Original source: Vermaak must give Groom a wake-up call