The 50-cap veteran of professional rugby on three continents is looking forward to the “fun” of carrying the hopes of one nation and “enmity” of another on his shoulders.
“I really don’t think it’s pressure; I think it’s a really great opportunity to play the host nation,” Vermeulen told media in Tokyo this week.
“I play my club rugby here and I really enjoy it. I love the country; I love the food; I love the culture and what’s better than playing the host country in a quarter-final? It’s definitely something you need to embrace and I’m looking forward to it.”
That means embracing the desire of the local population of 126 million wishing to see you lose – and probably the vast majority of global rugby neutrals who have been entranced by the Japanese rugby fairytale.
But to Vermeulen it’s just another rugby game, against a unique opponent, whom he knows well, having played club rugby in Japan (as well as in Europe and South Africa).
“The club teams do everything at 100mph,” he said.
“It’s training, it’s fitness, the guys don’t rest – the work ethic on the field, off the field is fantastic; it’s a fantastic culture.
“You know what’s coming but you’ve still got to stop it. For the South Africans that have played here before we know a little bit – and it’s better than the guys who haven’t played here before – we’re a little bit more suited, more equipped.
“But you’ve still got to pitch on the day. That’s the most important thing for us.”
Springbok fullback Willie le Roux is also a veteran of Japanese club rugby and will be appearing for Toyota Verblitz after the tournament.
“After the 2015 Rugby World Cup I came over to play Top League in Japan and I really enjoyed it,” Le Roux said.
“It’s very open. When the people back home ask me how I would describe it I say it’s like Sevens rugby played by 15-man teams; very quick; run from everywhere.
“In the Top League sometimes there’s not much structure and everyone just plays what they see, and it was fun; enjoyable.”
The Japanese national team has far more structure under their New Zealand coaching team and although their victory over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup remains a constant theme for local media, the Springboks’ 41-7 victory in Kumagaya at the beginning of September perhaps has more relevance.
“Japan bring a different style of play,” said Vermeulen.
“It’s not something that you’re generally used to, but luckily we played Japan five weeks ago or so we’ve experienced the style they play.
“They’ve said that they want to play a 50-minute ball-in-play game and that’s a bold thing to say but it’s also a good thing to chase.
“I think they’ve reached 39 minutes and a few seconds so far, so they’re 11 minutes shy but you never know that might happen come Sunday.
“So they’ve got a specific style, and they pride themselves on that style, and we also have our specific style. But we also need to adapt to their style and see what we can do to counter that.”
For the fourth match in a row, the Springboks will face a team that either has Afrikaans speakers or South African born coaches or players in the squad.
This time the Boks are likely to face Lappies Labuschagne, the former Toyota Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls looseforward with whom Vermeulen will be teaming up in a few months.
“Lappies is among the top four tacklers in the tournament at the moment so it’s going to be tough for us,” said Vermeulen. “Japan have world-class players and guys that are earning respect in-and-out every week.
“Some of the guys are a bit younger but they are building in character in their career, while Michael Leitch has been around the block a couple of seasons and has been part of teams that have lifted Super Rugby trophies.
“Lappies was also a young guy coming up when I played. He’s a really good guy, actually knows and understands the game really well and I think it’s fantastic to see him in a Japanese jersey and representing Japan and getting an opportunity to play at a World Cup.
“It’s going to be fun out there, coming up against your team-mate – because in a few months I’ll be teaming up with him against the likes of Michael Leitch and other guys.
“It’s going to be fun and a good challenge and I’m pretty much looking forward to it.”