Bulls lock Ruan Vermaak can aid his Springbok cause by bashing Benetton

Ruan Vermaak has been outstanding in the line-outs and tight-loose for the Bulls this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Ruan Vermaak has been outstanding in the line-outs and tight-loose for the Bulls this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 17, 2024


When considering No 4 lock options for the Springboks, World Cup winner Eben Etzebeth is the incumbent, and then RG Snyman is the next in line – although he is a vital member of the ‘Bomb Squad’ and may be better suited to No 5 anyway.

Jean Kleyn was also in the World Cup squad, but has been sidelined by an eye injury sustained in November for Munster that has sidelined him for the rest of the United Rugby Championship season.

Munster coach Graham Rowntree said recently that Kleyn has made progress, but was not sure if the former Stormers second-rower would be ready to feature in the July Test series against Ireland.

Another candidate at No 4 is Stormers captain Salmaan Moerat, who has had his fair share of injuries too, but seems to be on a good run for the Cape side at the moment.

But one of the unsung heroes for the Bulls could get a look-in – at least in the June 22 clash against Wales in London, and then perhaps the Portugal Test in Bloemfontein on July 20.

Ruan Vermaak has been a consistent performer for Jake White’s outfit this season. Having turned 26 earlier this month, the former Lions utility forward was the Player of the Match in last week’s 40-34 victory over Glasgow at Loftus Versfeld.

He will again be a key figure in the Bulls engine room in tomorrow’s massive encounter against Benetton at Loftus (2pm kick-off), as the Pretoria side push for top spot on the URC log.

They are currently fourth on 56 points, behind Glasgow (60), Leinster (59) and Munster (58).

What makes Vermaak so effective is that he does the basics particularly well. He hits rucks with great ferocity with his 2.01m, 118kg frame, he wins his own line-outs and crucially steals a number of opposition throw-ins, while he is also a strong ball carrier and tackler.

Sometimes you need someone to do the hard yards in the pack for the loose forwards to shine, and Vermaak does that in bucketloads, which has also allowed Bulls lock partners Ruan Nortjé and Reinhardt Ludwig to play a free role.

A Vermaak-Snyman combination would be ideal in terms of their skill sets in the second row for the Boks, and he credits much of his growth to former Bok lock Johan Ackermann as his coach at Japanese club NTT Red Hurricanes.

“I played lock in Japan, and I played maybe one game at loose forward. So, I don’t think it was a big adjustment, and I have fitted in quite well at lock,” Vermaak said.

“It was external factors as well for me to go to Japan … it wasn’t just about the rugby. There was stuff going on in my personal life as well that made me decide to go to Japan.

“But I learned a lot under coach Johan, being able to work with him. He used to play for the Springboks at lock, and the stuff that he taught me that I could implement in my game and bring it back to South Africa was a huge benefit for me.

“The coaches there, coach Neil (de Bruin) and Rory (Duncan), we used to work with them back in South Africa. But I think the big thing for me was to be able to be with coach Johan, and learning from him.

“Growing up, players like Victor (Matfield) and Bakkies (Botha) were role models for me, and coach Andries (Bekker) now (at the Bulls) – he used to be one of the best locks in South Africa.”

But the Bulls star is fully focused on helping his team avoid another second-half implosion against Benetton after they nearly let a 37-10 lead slip last week.

“It’s more a mental thing than anything else. We must make sure everyone is on the same page, and keep what happened against Glasgow at the back of our mind, and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Vermaak said.

“Two o’clock (kick-off) on Loftus is tough. And not only for the opposition, as we definitely also feel it a bit.

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“We’ll take anything that helps, so playing at two o’clock is definitely one of those things.

“We know Benetton is going to be a quality side. For us, the next two games before the knockouts are about getting maximum points.

“But we will take it week by week. I won’t say there’s necessarily extra pressure on us this weekend, but we want to focus on us and make sure we get the job done on the weekend.

“We expect a physical game from Benetton. They fight, like we saw at the weekend (in beating the Sharks 25-24 in Durban) – they keep going for 80 minutes, have physicality and keep on coming.”