CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s new coach Rassie Erasmus has been heavily criticised by his World Cup-winning predecessor Jake White over the decision to allow loose forward Duane Vermeulen to miss this year’s Rugby Championship.
White, who led the Springboks to the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, says allowing the influential Vermeulen to skip the competition in order to play club rugby in Japan shows Erasmus is not concerned enough about winning.
The southern hemisphere contest pitches South Africa against Argentina, Australia and world champions New Zealand home and away between August and October -- one year ahead of the World Cup in Japan.
"The only logical way to explain it is that, unlike other national coaches, Rassie is not worried about keeping his job,” wrote White in a column on the website alloutrugby.com.
"There’s no doubt in my mind that if his job depended on results over the next two years, there’s no way Vermeulen would have been allowed to go to Japan."
The imposing Vermeulen played a key role in South Africa’s success in June in their three-test series against England.
Vermeulen, 32, has just ended a three-year stint at Toulon in France and is joining a Super Rugby franchise next year after being convinced to return home by SA Rugby.
He has been allowed, however, to have a brief spell with Japan's Kubota Spears, a move which adds to the extensive exodus of South African rugby players to better-earning leagues.
“What I hear from the Bok camp is that we’ve got such a short time to prepare for the World Cup and that’s why we’re bringing back overseas players, even if they haven’t played 30 Tests. But Vermeulen is allowed to go to Japan and there’s a chance he won’t play in South Africa before the World Cup,” wrote White.
“This is not about vilifying Duane for playing in Japan. But if he is important enough to bring back from Toulon, and consider appointing him as the captain, why would you not have him involved in the next six tests against the best teams in the world? These are the same teams that the northern hemisphere heavyweights are so eager to test themselves against before the World Cup.
“I find it incredible that the Bok coach, after two of the worst seasons in team history, is under so little pressure that he’s released the most impactful forward, who he just brought back from overseas. When players are allowed to negotiate where and when they’re available to play for South Africa, that’s how you lose your edge as a rugby powerhouse,” White warned.
South Africa host Argentina in Durban on Aug. 18 in their opening encounter of this year’s Rugby Championship.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Toby Davis)