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Boks clash with the All Blacks is all mental, says 'machine' Vermeulen

‘We’re going to bash each other for 80 minutes.’

Murray Kinsella reports from London

THE MOST IMPORTANT individual piece of skill over the course of the World Cup quarter-finals? Certainly Duane Vermeulen’s sensational offload to Fourie du Preez was a strong contender.

The number eight was superb for the Springboks as they squeezed out Warren Gatland’s Wales at Twickenham, setting up a semi-final clash with a familiar enemy.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2015 - Quarter Final - South Africa v Wales - Twickenham Vermeulen was incredibly good against Wales. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Vermeulen’s teammates call him the ‘machine’ and the 29-year-old will need to be motoring at his very best on Saturday against a familiar foe.

The Boks and New Zealand have played out some fierce contests in recent times, with the latest honours going the way of Steve Hansen’s side on a 27-20 scoreline in Johannesburg during the Rugby Championship.

Whatever about tactics and the attacking form that New Zealand bring into this tie, Vermeulen believes it will be won and lost in the mind.

I think this week is all mental,” said Vermeulen in Guildford yesterday. “We know exactly how New Zealand play and they know how we play.

“The coaches have already sorted out the way they want to attack and defend and what plays they want. So as a player in the squad it definitely just comes down to mental preparation, how you get yourself ready for Saturday.

“You see the body language of the guys, are you down the slope or happy where you are?”

Vermeulen pointed to the importance of the Boks’ performance psychologist, Pieter Kruger, for this training week.

Professor Kruger, who has a PhD in Clinical and Performance Psychology, joined the South Africa set up at the start of the year as head coach Heyneke Meyer looked to strengthen the mental skills of his players.

Duane Vermeulen Vermeulen was a doubt for the RWC at one stage. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They have had some demanding tests of those skills this year, but the manner in which the Boks bounced back from their opening-game defeat to Japan at this World Cup has suggested real resilience.

Kruger is a man who will “put you in the right direction,” according to Vermeulen.

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“In front of the group as a whole he gives us a couple of bits of stuff,” said the number eight. “The first couple of games in the Rugby Championship we played, there was a tense part between 50 and 70 minutes – 20 minutes where we struggled to get points.

Pieter showed that us that you just have to get that little bit of a mind shift. Suddenly, you cannot score tries but you can score points and build that scoreboard pressure to put yourself ahead. When you are behind, you can keep the boxes ticking too.”

The number eight is a man who appears to be on a positive route, with his performance last weekend against Wales driving his side to success. Vermeulen missed the July defeat to the Kiwis and very nearly saw himself ruled out of this World Cup due to neck surgery.

Fit again and firing at his best, the Toulon man is inspiring his teammates.

“Duane is a machine, as we all like to call him,” said prop Tendai Mtawarira, known as the ‘Beast’ himself.

“Jean de Villiers said it before the tournament started: ‘We don’t need to look anywhere else for inspiration, we’ve got guys within the team that really inspire us’ and Duane is definitely one of those figures who inspires all of us by the way he leads on the field.

Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau with Duane Vermeulen Vermeulen is arguably the best number eight in the world. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We just have to follow behind and make sure we’re right behind him when he’s putting his body on the line.”

The Boks are going to be doing a fair bit of that, one senses, and Vermeulen says he is greatly looking forward to taking on Kiwi number eight Kieran Read, stating that “it’s always nice to come up against a guy you really respect.”

Indeed, there is mutual respect between these two world-leading sides, despite the rivalry on the pitch. Saturday is likely to be physically brutal, highly skillful and quite possibly thrilling for us neutrals, but the teams will keep the spirit of the game alive after the battle.

There’s a massive rivalry,” said Vermeulen. “You always see the respect of the game, how the guys treat each other. You play against each other week on week and you tend to get to know the guys a bit better.

“That’s where the respect grows. It’s nice to see the guys, but we’re going to bash each other for 80 minutes.

“Afterwards, we’ll definitely have a good chat and maybe a beer like Skulla (Schalk Brits) always says.”

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Murray Kinsella

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