By Nick Said
SHIZUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – Powerful South Africa number eight Duane Vermeulen is itching to tackle one of his role-models in Italy captain Sergio Parisse when the sides meet in a must-win Rugby World Cup Pool B encounter at the Shizuoka Stadium on Friday.
Parisse, a veteran of 141 caps and a key player when Italy stunned the Springboks with a historic 20-18 victory in 2016, will be Vermeulen’s opposite number at the back of the scrum and their battle could be among the most eye-catching in the game.
Vermeulen did not play in the defeat three years ago in Firenze, but knows all too well the qualities of Parisse as both sides seek to take a massive step towards a quarter-final place.
“You want to beat your opposite number, but also make sure the team wins,” Vermeulen told reporters.
“I want to do my individual work well that has been set out for me to do. But he is a fantastic player and to be in your fifth World Cup is a massive achievement for a man that I really look up to.”
Vermeulen was rested for the Boks’ 57-3 victory over Namibia in their last outing but returns for what is essentially a knockout fixture.
While he is “mentally fresh”, Vermeulen found it difficult watching from the stands.
“It’s tough to sit on the sidelines and watch. You always want to be a part of it. But you can still contribute, you run the plays of the opposition, you give the team the best chance to be as prepared as they can when they hit the field.
“We did a bit of off-field work, but yeah, I am mentally fresh and ready to go this week.”
Vermeulen has backed the inclusion of lock Lood de Jager ahead of Franco Mostert in a changed Bok pack from that which started the 23-13 defeat to New Zealand in their opening match.
Coach Rassie Erasmus is expecting a tense forward battle in what could be wet conditions and his selection of De Jager over the more mobile Mostert is a sign of this.
“When it comes to lineouts, he knows what he wants to do and he has been put there for a certain reason. He is a tall guy and also gives you a bit of extra weight in the scrum, as well as the mauls,” Vermeulen says.
“He has improved a lot in some of the small things around the maul time. In the last game against Namibia he really impressed and had a massive game, so hopefully he can do it again. He is a good leader.”
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Stephen Coates)