19.2.2020 08:43 am
It’s easy to forget that, throughout the group stages of the World Cup and then into the quarterfinals and semifinals, the nuggety halfback was the subject of much criticism from supporters back home.
The Springboks have been celebrating as 2019 Rugby World Champions for well over four months now, and there was another accolade on Monday night in Berlin as they were crowned Team of the Year at the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards .
The defence guru’s elevation wasn’t exactly a surprise as Rassie Erasmus opts for continuity.
The irrepressible flanker made history by becoming only the third player to win the SA Rugby Player-of-the-Year accolade three times.
The Springbok skipper took the prize following a poll of the RUWC’s 200-plus members ahead of their annual dinner in London.
The first black captain in the Springboks’ 126-year history led his nation to the world title in Japan, which has seen his public profile soar.
He’s had his troubles on and off the field, but the former hooker remains passionate about the national side.
Interestingly, he’s actually not the only one who wears them on match days.
A consummate professional and highly skilled player, the versatile veteran loose forward got his due reward with two trophies in 2019.
Could this be the Springbok captain’s career after rugby?
Brought up by a single mother in Nelspruit, Vermeulen played his 50th Test in the Boks’ opening game in the World Cup, against New Zealand.
Winning the World Cup with the Springboks was Tendai Mtawarira’s last bit of unfinished business here, topping off a magnificent career.
Mtawarira, 34, has been a fixture at loosehead prop since debuting in 2008 and he is the third-most capped Springbok with 117, after Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana.
The Springbok captain is acutely aware of his importance to South Africans, particularly after an endearing image of he and Schalk Burger resurfaced on Twitter.
If tomorrow’s Rugby World Cup semifinal is played in the wet, as is expected, the Springboks are braced for ‘a game of chess’ against Wales, says flyhalf Handre Pollard.
The versatile 25-year-old midfielder had to return home early from the World Cup tournament in Japan due to a hamstring problem.