Springbok great Duane Vermeulen has announced his retirement at the age of 37.
The 37-year-old Vermeulen had a great Springbok career that spanned 76 Tests over 11 seasons. He would have probably played 100 times for the green and gold if he hadn’t been hurt.
He played No. 8 in 68 of his Tests, three times at flanker, and five times off the bench. He scored three tries for South Africa.
Vermeulen is from Mbombela in Mpumalanga. He played his first Test match against Australia in Perth in 2012 and his last game for his country was in the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final against New Zealand in Paris.
Besides that, he won the SA Rugby Player of the Year Award twice, in 2014 and 2020. He joined Schalk Burger (2004), Bryan Habana (2005), Fourie du Preez (2006), Jean de Villiers (2008), and Pieter-Steph du Toit (1916, 2018, and 2019) as the only players to have won the award more than once since professional rugby began.
Vermeulen and the late Springbok loose forward Theuns Stofberg are the only players in provincial history to have won the Currie Cup with three different unions. Stofberg did it with the Toyota Cheetahs (2007), DHL Western Province (2012), and Vodacom Bulls (2020).
“Duane will forever be regarded as one of the real hard men of South African rugby – he was not only a formidable force for the Springboks but also a multifaceted player who consistently delivered his best,” said Mr Alexander.
“As someone who preferred to operate away from the limelight, Duane was one of those players who never settled for second best and always gave everything he had to his team.
“He was a leader who captained South Africa in four Tests, but he also retired as the most-capped Springbok No 8 with two Rugby World Cup winners’ medals – a wonderful achievement for a player who will be remembered as a true legend of the sport.”
Vermeulen played his first senior provincial game for the Airlink Pumas in 2005, the same year that he graduated from Hoërskool Nelspruit.
The Bulls tried to get him to join, but he chose to stay with the Mpumalanga-based union instead, skipping the junior ranks.
As a junior, he never played for South Africa. But on August 5, 2005, just a month and two days after turning 19, he made his debut for the Pumas in a Currie Cup match against the Border Bulldogs.
In 2005 and 2006, Vermeulen played for the Pumas. Then, Rassie Erasmus, who was then the head coach of the Free Staters and is now the Director of Rugby for SA Rugby, got him to move to Bloemfontein. In 2007, two months before he turned 21, he played his first Vodacom Super Rugby match.
They moved to Cape Town in 2009 and played for DHL Western Province and the Stormers. Erasmus and Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber also went there. He played his first international rugby match that same year when he was picked to play for the Emerging Springboks against the visiting British & Irish Lions in the Mother City. He also played against the Lions for DHL WP during the same series.
In 2010, he was part of a preliminary Springbok training squad that was getting ready for the end-of-year tour. However, he didn’t play his first Test until two years later because of injuries, which meant he missed the chance to play in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Vermeulen also played club rugby in other countries. From 2015 to 2018, he played for Toulon in France, from 2018 to 2020 for the Kubota Spears in Japan, and from 2021 to 2023 for Ulster in Ireland.
“Duane made a massive impression wherever he went, and looking at his achievements all over the world, it’s clear that he was not only a Springbok great, but a superb ambassador for South Africa,” added Mr Alexander.
“I know Duane still has a lot to give back to our wonderful game, but as his playing career comes to an end, on behalf of the entire South African rugby family, I would like to thank Duane for his selfless service to his country and the Springboks, as well as his provincial unions.
“I would like to wish him, his wife, Ezel, and their two sons, Anru and Zian, the best for their future.”