It may not sound like much, but consider this for a moment: it took Eben Etzebeth “only” 1555 days to bring up his half century of Tests, while Pieter-Steph du Toit, who reached this milestone two weeks ago against Japan, took 2128 days.
Etzebeth and Du Toit though are much younger than Vermeulen and broke into the Springbok set-up much earlier in their careers, while the tough Bok No 8 from the Lowveld had to deal with many injury setbacks early in his career.
Vermeulen also took the road less travelled and had to contend with many injury setbacks. He made his mark for the Pumas way back in 2005, then moved to Bloemfontein where he was coached for the first time by Rassie Erasmus with the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, lifting the Currie Cup with them in 2007.
He then followed Erasmus to Cape Town and made his Bok debut after becoming a stalwart for the DHL Stormers, a full seven years after first season at senior first-class level. By the time he made his Test debut, Vermeulen had amassed 72 caps at Vodacom Super Rugby level for the Toyota Cheetahs and the DHL Stormers.
His only taste of rugby in green and gold came as a member of the Emerging Springbok team that famously drew with the British & Irish Lions in torrential rain in Cape Town in 2009.
But in recent years Vermeulen (pictured above on the night of his Test capping), who stands 1.93m tall and weighs 117kg, has become an integral part of the Springbok set-up. He captained the team earlier this year when they won the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, in the absence of injured regular skipper Siya Kolisi, and will play in his 50th Test against the All Blacks in Yokohama on Saturday.
Vermeulen will become the 36th Springbok to reach 50 Test caps. The former Nelspruit High School learner has amassed 123 Vodacom Super Rugby caps after representing the Vodacom Bulls earlier this year, and also played a number of club games in France (Toulon) and Japan (Kubota Spears).
For Vermeulen though, his own dreams and ambitions always came second to the needs of the team. So much so, that he was caught slightly unaware when asked about this milestone earlier in the week in Tokyo.
“It’s pretty cool, hey (to face New Zealand in such a milestone match). I didn’t even know that – it’s actually nice to hear it. We never spoke about it. It’s not a big thing in our team,” Vermeulen said at a media conference.
“In the squad, we try to focus on what we need to do come the weekend. I played my first Test and I couldn’t get a win, so hopefully in the 50th, it could be a lucky one.”
Kieran Read, All Blacks captain and Vermeulen’s direct opponent on Saturday, admitted to being surprised that the Bok No 8 had not already reached the landmark: “I thought I had already played 50 against Duane myself, so I was surprised when I heard he is only getting his 50th cap now. He’s a really top bloke and a top player. He is a big aggressive player who likes to carry the ball and playing against him presents a big but enjoyable challenge.”
Vermeulen, who was involved in one of the Boks’ best moment of the RWC 2015, when he offloaded to Fourie du Preez for a match-winning try in their quarter-final against Wales at Twickenham, lines up against New Zealand for the ninth time on Saturday.
“It’s the World Cup and it’s an exciting thing – the first game for both teams, they might have something new for us and we might have something new for them – you never know what’s coming on the day,” he said.
“We try to prepare as best we can and hopefully we are ready once they throw their things into the fire. Hopefully we can stop what they deliver and offer own surprises.”
And knowing how the big Bok No 8 approaches the game, he is sure to relish the opportunity to face the defending RWC champions in what will arguably be one of the biggest pool matches in Japan this year.