From his cooking to tidiness, get to know the back-rower
Downtime with… Ulster and South Africa No 8 Duane Vermeulen
How have you settled into Belfast?
I’ve been getting used to the wet and cold! The first part was great as I had my family here for a couple of months but they went back to South Africa. It’s difficult being on your own but I’m enjoying the club and the culture. Hopefully I’ll get to learn more and see more of this beautiful country.
Apart from your family, what do you miss most about South Africa?
A proper braai – I can’t say barbecue!
Are you a good cook?
That’s my hidden talent! I love to cook, it’s just not great when you’re cooking for one person. When I was younger I started to make my own dishes, like lemon-and-lime rice and peanut butter spinach. It may sound a bit strange but it’s really tasty.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the pitch?
Most of the stuff is R-rated so the only thing I can say is I’ve seen a couple of streakers and the way security manhandles them is pretty funny.
Who are the jokers in the Ulster and South Africa squads?
At Ulster it’s mostly James Hume and Ian Madigan. With the Boks, there are a couple of interesting characters. Damian de Allende stands out, Frans Steyn can crack a joke… Trevor Nyakane and Bongi Mbonambi – if you see those two it’s a good laugh just to look at them!
I’ve had a couple through the years. When I started at Western Province I was called ‘Manchild’ because I looked like a man but acted like a child because I was still very young.
Then ‘Customs’. A guy called Anton van Zyl came to Western Province, introduced himself and said, “Call me Worms”.
I said, “I’m Duane” and he asked how I spelt it. It’s similar to customs – doeane – in Afrikaans and that stuck.
Do you have any phobias?
I’m not really scared of anything unless I’m in their environment. So in the ocean I’d be a bit uncomfortable about sharks, in a river or a lake it would be crocodiles.
What really annoys you?
Things being out of place. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I grew up in a perfectionist home, so I’m a little OCD.
It can be difficult, going about your days and you see guys with something out of the norm. I try to pick tidy room-mates. I’ve had a couple of guys where it’s chaos on their side of the room whereas mine is perfectly neat and I know where stuff is. RG Snyman is a menace in a room!
What superpower would you like to have?
To change time or teleport. Not to necessarily change a specific moment in time but maybe to go back in time. You can control most things, but not time.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
Once I cursed in front of the referee and it was picked up on the ref mic. My grandmother phoned me the day after and asked what I’d said. Then I had one or two Instagram messages telling me my language was inappropriate.
Who’d you like to be stuck in a lift with?
This is a difficult one but I’d say my dad. He passed away when I was eight years old and being that young you can’t remember a lot of stuff, you don’t really know your parents when you’re growing up or understand what life is about. So if I could sit down with him and have a chat, ask him questions, talk about things that have moulded me through life… It would be a really interesting conversation.
What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever bought?
In South Africa, well probably all over the world, on TV there are those infomercials and I end up spending a lot of money on things that look like they really work on TV but don’t work the same at home.
If you could be one team-mate, who would it be?
Myself. I’m a really good team-mate!
Who would be your three dream dinner party guests?
Tom Brady, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan – they’re all guys who have been and still are very successful in their sporting careers. It would be amazing to understand what makes them tick, what got them to where they are in life, what got them to change their game to stay at the top.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Jelly sweets, gummies. I’m not a big chocolate person but any jelly sweets.
What would you like to achieve outside of rugby?
I’ve been chasing this ball for 18 seasons and now I’m in the last part of my career. I have two boys and my oldest son is turning nine this year. I’ve been away from them for seven or eight years, so the biggest thing for me is to spend time with my family. And proper time, a year where non-stop I can get out of bed and do things with the kids. Those are special times.
That’s why I talked about time before; there are things that are gone that you’ll never get back in life and kids only stay kids until a certain age.
How’d you like to be remembered?
As a guy who made a difference in someone’s life, either on the pitch or off the pitch. If I can make a difference in one guy’s life, I’ve played my part.
This article originally appeared in Rugby World’s July 2022 edition.
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