Duane Vermeulen led from the front (Gallo Images)
- Bulls mentor Jake White singled out skipper Duane Vermeulen as the true hero in his team’s Currie Cup semi-final triumph over the Lions on Saturday.
- White said the Springbok stalwart operated at “another level” and that his calm leadership was crucial in the victory.
- But the praise wasn’t just reserved for the seniors as rookies such as Stravino Jacobs also made their mark.
Despite the claims from various younger members of his team, Jake White had little hesitation anointing his Bulls captain, Duane Vermeulen, as the true hero of his team’s Currie Cup semi-final triumph over the Lions on Saturday.
The evergreen 34-year-old Springbok stalwart proved to be a proverbial silent assassin, saving his best work out of sight and having a galvanising effect as leader.
His influence was never more apparent than in the 56th minute of the 26-21 victory at Loftus, when – following the Lions’ short burst of two tries to tie things up at 14-all and a rare missed kick at goal from flyhalf Morne Steyn – he chose to go for touch.
It was a situation that seemingly cried out for another shot at goal, but Vermeulen had other ideas.
By the end of the attacking line-out, replacement hooker Johan Grobbelaar had rounded off a potent rolling maul.
“Yeah, from the coaches box we probably felt that we should’ve gone for the three points, but I suppose you have to trust a World Cup winner who was Man-of-the-Match in the final,” White said afterwards.
“You’ve got to have an understanding that a captain has on-field intuition. Duane knows what’s going on, he probably had a sense too that certain things were working. And you’ve got to trust him.”
The reward of that decision reinforced that Vermeulen’s choice as captain for the start of the White era has been merited.
“Never underestimate what a good captain means to a team,” said White.
“Duane was outstanding. The way in which he handled things, how he talked to the players, it’s inspiring. Remember, after 2 minutes in the second half, we were 14-0 ahead. A few minutes later, it was 14-all.
“It’s a great thing if your captain can still show calmness in a situation like that. But Duane also mentioned in the changeroom afterwards that he might’ve come up with the words, but that he’s just grateful to see how the rest of the team responded, how determined they were to pull things through.”
That’s not necessarily a tough thing to do when your leader is performing well himself.
“Let’s not forget that Duane played really well too. He definitely made an impact as player too, not just as leader,” said White.
“I’m confident the Lions saw today that he was actually operating on another level. And that’s what you want, you want your best players to perform in these crunch games. You want them delivering their best.
“Duane was one of them. Cornal Hendricks was the official Man-of-the-Match, Ivan van Zyl played well and Morne shrugged off some missed kicks to play well in general.
“It’s great to see your senior players taking the lead.”
Yet White was also more than willing to single out his youngsters who performed with distinction, particularly 20-year-old winger Stravino Jacobs, who finished with a brace.
“He should’ve had a hat-trick, I don’t know what went through his mind,” said the Bulls’ director of rugby, referring to Jacobs knocking the ball on over the line for one of his scores.
“He’s just come out junior rugby, same as David Kriel. Kurt-Lee Arendse is new to fifteens and was out for a while. They’re going to make mistakes, but to see their work ethic is amazing.”