Vermeulen set for spell on the sidelines
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter has today confirmed Exeter Chiefs forward Jacques Vermeulen is set for an extended period on the sidelines after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The 25-year-old South African enjoyed a dream first season in Devon, helping his new club to lift both the Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup titles.
The open-side was an integral part of Baxter's double-winning outfit, featuring 26 times in all competitions, scoring nine tries in the process.
Speaking in his match-day media briefing ahead of Friday's Premiership opener against Harlequins, Baxter gave an injury update on those who have undergone surgery since the end of last season.
"It was a relatively big operation," said Baxter of Vermeulen. "He was holding on until we got to the end of the season, so he's going to be out for an extended period, as is Jack Nowell, who has had an operation on his toe.
"They are both long-term injuries, probably 12 or so weeks, so it's going to take some hard work from the players and some hard work from the medical staff about how to monitor them going forward.
"That said, we're not overly concerned that they will be major issues moving forward, but they will take some time. On the whole, the squad look strong. They will go to Harlequins, obviously we want them to stay fit, because we will be tested if this group don't stay fit, but we will get on with it.
"When I look at the lads, there is nobody in that team who don't want to play. They are an ambitious bunch and they do get disappointed if they don't play. We haven't got big swathes of players here at Exeter who want to play for two weeks and then have a month off. We have a lot of guys who want to play every week and most of them are disappointed when I phone them up and tell them they are not selected for the week.
"I am quite excited at this group of players starting the season, working hard for one another and seeing what they can achieve for one another. It's always the same - rugby is always about the people in the room, not the people in the room, so I am looking forward to seeing them in the changing rooms on Friday night, I am looking forward to seeing them take to the pitch, and showing people what they are about.
"Friday will be a great test for them, both physically and emotionally, Harlequins away will be a tough one, we lost there the last time we played there, so it's a great challenge for us."
With Jonny Hill, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner all away on international duty, Vermeulen's absence will put pressure on Exeter's second-row, with the former Sharks player able to play at flanker or lock.
"We may look at Don Armand in a slightly different role, he's played a lot of second-row before and we may look at him in a role around there," Baxter added. "We've got a couple of young back fives also in the academy who are starting to show some promise so it creates an opportunity for them."
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have also received a boost with England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie returning to training ahead of Friday's Premiership opener.
The forward had undergone minor knee surgery after the Premiership final win over Wasps last month.
"Luke is close, he's back in monitored training, so we have to see how he goes. He could be available for Friday, but we will leave it as late as possible based on him."