Durban - The rugby world has not stopped talking about the 2019 World Cup final as the countdown intensifies to Saturday’s big match between South Africa and England, but that monumental day has not been under the microscope in the Springbok camp.
Duane Vermeulen, who was the Man of the Match in that epic win for the Boks, says the team has moved on and is more interested in the England of 2021 than the 2019 vintage.
“It has been talked about only a bit,” the veteran No 8 said from London.
“It has been more about how England have changed since then. So there has not been too much discussion about that actual game, it is not a big motivator for us ...
“We have to stay in the now, the present, and look at what England are doing this season and how they have evolved.
“And it is a difficult one because we have seen their games against tier-one countries, and then how they have played in tier-two games, and there is a difference ...
“They play differently when the game opens up and they have a number of new guys that add excitement, it is nice to see them using form guys (from the English Premiership, such as flyhalf Marcus Smith).
“But Test match rugby is Test match rugby, and it might shock some guys because it is a big step up.
“So we will see what we get on Saturday from England but we are obviously aware that they have a lot of skill and pace, and back themselves. We are very wary of them.”
One significant change for both teams since the 2019 World Cup final is that forwards coach Matt Proudfoot has switched sides.
He is now in charge of the England pack and Vermeulen was asked how this would impact the Boks.
“We shared special things ... Matt knows everything about me, from when I was schoolboy through to my time with Western Province,” Vermeulen admitted.
“You build good relationships but obviously now that we are up against him, we might have a trick or two up our sleeves, and they might have a trick or two for us.
“But, yes, he knows me personally — my way of thinking, what I play for and stand for as a person, so you never know what is coming ... ”
Two years on from 2019, another significant difference to the Boks is the absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit, who was the World Player of the Year then. Du Toit went down injured against the British & Irish Lions and it took six Rugby Championship matches before coach Jacques Nienaber finally settled on Kwagga Smith as his blindside flank.
“Losing Pieter was a big thing for us,” Vermeulen admitted.
“It was never going to be easy to replace him. Franco Mostert was tried at blindside, then Kwagga, and he really took his chance.
“He is a good runner with the ball, is quick to the breakdown, and has a very high work rate on and off the ball.
“And his combination with Siya (Kolisi) is working really well. At No 8, I play tighter with the tight five and we have a good balance with Siya and Kwagga operating in tandem.”