Duane Vermeulen’s reverse-flick pass to set up Fourie du Preez for South Africa’s match-winning try in their World Cup quarter-final win over Wales was the best piece of handling skill by a No. 8 at Twickenham for all of, well, less than two years, in fact.
With five minutes to go, Vermeulen sucked in Lloyd Williams and Alex Cuthbert before releasing scrumhalf Du Preez, the South Africa captain, for a try that sealed a 23-19 victory.
Yet in November 2013, there was barely a minute on the clock when rampaging New Zealand No. 8 Kieran Read broke down the left wing and then slipped a try-scoring pass to wing Julian Saves that took the England trio of Chris Ashton, Tom Wood and Billy Vunipola out of the equation.
The world champions went on to win that match 30-22, with Read scoring one of their three tries.
Vermuelen’s and Read’s passing skills, worthy of a top-class back in European terms, shows just what is expected of leading southern hemisphere forwards in modern rugby and indeed what the crowd can look forward to when New Zealand and South Africa meet in their World Cup semi-final at Twickenham today.
Not only must they get through their share of hard, grueling work at the breakdown, as well as anchor a scrum, but also to offload the ball out of contact too.
Long a key position on the field, as a pack’s link with their backs, No. 8s with the all-round game of Vermeulen and Read, a member of the All Blacks side who won the 2011 World Cup, are especially valuable in that they pose so many problems for opposition defenses.
“He’s a world-class player,” Vermeulen said of Read.
“I like the way he plays and it’s always nice to come up against a guy you really respect,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tough encounter, but definitely one I’m looking forward to,” said the Springbok back-row, who needed neck surgery before being passed fit for the World Cup.
“I think this week is all mental,” Vermeulen added. “We know exactly how New Zealand play and they know how we play.”
When it comes to having the right mental approach, few teams have got it more spot-on than New Zealand.
“Certainly a playoff game heightens that pressure, that expectation. It’s not about running away from it, it’s getting excited by the challenge,” Read said ahead of their quarter-final with France.
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