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Vermeulen aims to finish Springbok career on a high

Duane Vermeulen almost quit international rugby after South Africa’s World Cup win in Japan in 2019, but four years on the man nicknamed ‘Thor’ is back for their title defence and looking to “finish on a high”.

The 37-year-old number eight remains a key weapon in the Springboks’ armoury but had to be persuaded to carry on after his man of the match performance to beat England in the 2019 final, and since then has fought through several injury issues.

He conceded that in the wake of the Japan win, France 2023 was not on his radar.

"To be really honest, no," he told reporters on Tuesday. “Just before I joined Ulster (in 2021) I was in a tough spot, the body was acting up. I thought maybe I should have called it (international retirement) back in 2019. But the coaches reassured me to play on.

“Mobility and flexibility get harder as you get older and you watch the young guys in the reviews and think, ‘jeez, I better catch up’ and I’ve worked at it and now my mobility is better than some the young guys.

“It’s that last bit of energy that's in you and you want to push and finish on a high, so that's where I am at the moment."

Vermeulen will vie with Jasper Wiese to start in South Africa’s World Cup Pool B opener against Scotland in Marseille on Sunday. With world number one Ireland in their pool, the loser of that game faces a tough road to the quarter-finals.    

"It’s the start of your World Cup campaign, so there’s probably a bit of pressure on everyone to produce, but it also depends on how you see pressure or how you handle pressure,” Vermeulen said.

"You want to start well. That’s the same for every single team – hopefully we can achieve that."

The burly loose-forward is a key man in organising the Springboks’ defence, which will be tested by mercurial Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell.

"Scotland love to play on quick ball and Finn Russell is the kingpin in that position,” Vermeulen said.

"He's a magician with ball in hand. He's got a massive playbook in his head and is just a fantastic individual player.

"It’s a guy we really have to sit down and have video sessions (on) and have a look at what he does." REUTERS