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Springboks wary of Scottish ‘magician’ Russell: Vermeulen

South Africa have to do their homework on Scotland’s “kingpin” Finn Russell if the defending champions are not to have a nasty shock in their World Cup opener, the experienced Duane Vermeulen said on Tuesday.

The Springboks go into Sunday’s opening match for both teams after inflicting the heaviest defeat ever on their fellow three-time world champions New Zealand last month with a 35-7 win at Twickenham.

However, they are in a tough pool with world-ranked number one Ireland, a robust Tonga side and an unpredictable Scottish outfit.

The Scots may be without the now retired Stuart Hogg but in Russell they possess one of the great creative forces in the game.

Vermeulen, man of the match in the 2019 final when the Boks steamrollered England 32-12, said additional time will be devoted to Scotland’s fly-half in their preparations for the game in Marseille.

“Scotland love to play on quick ball and Finn Russell is the kingpin in that position,” Vermeulen said at a press conference.

“He’s a magician with ball in hand. He’s got a massive playbook in his head and is just a fantastic individual player.

“It’s a guy we really have to sit down and have video sessions (on) and have a look at what he does.”

Vermeulen, 37, admits he often thought he would not appear at another World Cup after he suffered a succession of injuries following the Springboks’ victory in the 2019 final in Japan.

“Just before I joined Ulster (in 2021) I was in a tough spot, the body was acting up,” he said.

“I thought maybe I should have called it (his international retirement) back in 2019. The coaches reassured me to play on.

“It’s that last bit of energy that’s in you and you know you want to push and finish on a high, so that’s where I am at the moment.”

‘Opportunity gone’

Vermeulen is not the only Springbok player who at one point thought the World Cup would be beyond him.

Scrum-half Grant Williams was knocked unconscious by Argentina’s Juan Cruz Mallia in the opening minute of their Rugby Championship at the beginning of last month.

“I played the whole Championship, (against) Australia and New Zealand, and Argentina was my first start, so I really thought that I was gaining momentum,” said the 27-year-old.

“When that incident happened I felt like that was my opportunity gone.

“I was quite emotional because I wanted to use that opportunity. It happened in the first 10 seconds, so that was my game.

“I’m so happy that I can be here and still be part of the squad.”

The Boks will be meeting with some familiar faces dating back to their youth as two of the Scots props are South African-born Pierre Schoeman and WP Nel.

Scrum coach Pieter de Villiers is also South Africa-born but played Test rugby for France.

“I coached with Pieter de Villiers when I was with the junior Springboks, and part of that team was Pierre Schoeman,” said Springbok assistant coach Deon Davids.

“WP Nel way back was one of my players at the Boland Cavaliers when I started out, so yeah, I’ve got a good experience of them.

“From an early age when he was in South Africa he showed ability to play at the highest level.

“I’m quite glad that it worked out for him when he made the decision and got an opportunity to play international rugby.”