The Stormers captain was a shock absentee from Saturday’s 19-19 draw against the Lions at Newlands. According to team doctor Jason Suter, Vermeulen suffered a “severe neck spasm” after the captain’s run on Friday and a scan revealed a “bulging disc at C5 level”.
The hard-running No 8 was scheduled to see a neurosurgeon today. While Suter refused to be drawn into speculation regarding the severity of the problem, the Stormers doctor did say it was “unlikely” that this injury would negatively impact Vermeulen’s chances of going to the World Cup later this year, but that it was also “very unlikely” he would be cleared to face the Sharks at King’s Park this Saturday (kick-off 7.10pm).
As a result of the first draw of the Super Rugby season, the Stormers clinched their third SA Conference title in five seasons and guaranteed their return to the play-offs for the first time since 2012.
However, the stalemate will also see them travel to Durban in third place on the overall standings, trailing the Australian Conference-leading Waratahs by two log points.
Even if the defending champions succumb to the Reds in Sydney this week, the Brumbies would have to do the same in Canberra when they host the Crusaders in order for a win in Durban to catapult the Stormers into second place.
So, the Stormers have almost certainly been diagnosed with a terminal case of an overseas semi-final and final. Overall the home team has won 16 of the 20 knockout matches played since the competition expanded to 15 teams in 2011, while nine of the last 10 finals have been won by the hosts.
Coach Allister Coetzee and captain Juan de Jongh tried to put a positive spin on these developments, but the implications of a third-placed finish was evident on the forlorn faces of several Stormers on Saturday.
“We’re unhappy about the draw, but that takes nothing away from the way we attacked, defended and the character in the side,” Coetzee said in the aftermath.
“I’m telling you, from a coach’s point of view, this team has performed very well, especially a team that was given no chance in this competition (by the media at the start of the season).”
“We don’t need big-name players or a lot of Springboks, the guys in this squad have a lot of ambition and energy and that will pull us through,” said De Jongh.
There were eight Boks in the Stormers line-up that matched the Lions, but that number is expected to shrink this week as Coetzee intends to “build capacity” and rest key players for a wildcard play-off at Newlands in a fortnight.
“We’re in the ‘quarter-finals’ and we’ll get an overseas team over here, and we can prepare for that..”
Apart from Springboks to be rested, others who could be deactivated are fullback Cheslin Kolbe, centre Damian de Allende and loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, with fit-again winger Kobus van Wyk, Jaco Taute and Oli Kebble on track to fill the respective gaps, along with possible call-ups to the matchday squad for Alistair Vermaak, Wilco Louw, Ruan Botha, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Robert du Preez. – Cape Argus
Original source: Vermeulen worry for Stormers