The 37-year-old Vermeulen’s illustrious Springbok career spanned 76 Tests over 11 seasons and if it wasn’t for injuries, he would probably have racked up a century of appearances in the green and gold. He started 68 of his Tests in the No 8 jersey, played three times at flanker and five times off the bench, scoring three tries for South Africa.
Vermeulen, who hails from Mbombela in Mpumalanga, made his Test debut against Australia in Perth in 2012 and concluded his international journey in the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final against New Zealand in Paris.
He also won the SA Rugby Player of the Year Award twice (2014 and ’20), along with an elite club of only five players who have won the award more than once since the advent of professionalism: Schalk Burger (2004, ’11), Bryan Habana (2005, ’07, ’12), Fourie du Preez (2006, ’09), Jean de Villiers (2008, ’13) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (2016, ’18, ’19).
At provincial level, Vermeulen and the late Springbok loose forward Theuns Stofberg are the only players who have won the Currie Cup with three different unions, when he lifted the coveted gold trophy with the Toyota Cheetahs (2007), DHL Western Province (2012) and Vodacom Bulls (2020).
“Duane will forever be regarded as one of the real hard men of South African rugby – he was not only a formidable force for the Springboks but also a multifaceted player who consistently delivered his best,” said Mr Alexander.
“As someone who preferred to operate away from the limelight, Duane was one of those players who never settled for second best and always gave everything he had to his team.
“He was a leader who captained South Africa in four Tests, but he also retired as the most-capped Springbok No 8 with two Rugby World Cup winners’ medals – a wonderful achievement for a player who will be remembered as a true legend of the sport.”
Vermeulen made his senior provincial debut for the Airlink Pumas in 2005, the year after he matriculated from Hoërskool Nelspruit. Despite being courted by the Bulls, he opted to remain loyal to the Mpumalanga-based union, skipping the junior ranks.
He never represented South Africa at junior level, but made his debut for the Pumas on 5 August 2005 in a Currie Cup clash against the Border Bulldogs, just a month and two days after turning 19.
Vermeulen played for the Pumas in 2005 and 2006 before he was lured to Bloemfontein by SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, who was then still head coach of the Free Staters. He made his Vodacom Super Rugby debut in 2007, two months before he turned 21.
In 2009, he followed Erasmus and Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber to Cape Town, where he played for DHL Western Province and the Stormers. In the same year he got his first taste of international rugby when he was selected for the Emerging Springboks against the touring British & Irish Lions in the Mother City (he also faced the Lions for DHL WP during the same series).
In 2010, he was included in a preliminary Springbok training squad as part of the preparation for the end of year tour, but he only made his Test debut two years later after struggling with injuries, which saw him miss out on possible selection for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Vermeulen also played club rugby abroad, for Toulon in France (2015-2018), the Kubota Spears in Japan (2018-2020) and Ulster in Ireland (2021-2023).
“Duane made a massive impression wherever he went, and looking at his achievements all over the world, it’s clear that he was not only a Springbok great, but a superb ambassador for South Africa,” added Mr Alexander.
“I know Duane still has a lot to give back to our wonderful game, but as his playing career comes to an end, on behalf of the entire South African rugby family, I would like to thank Duane for his selfless service to his country and the Springboks, as well as his provincial unions.
"I would like to wish him, his wife, Ezel, and their two sons, Anru and Zian, the best for their future.”