Jacques Vermeulen: Exeter Chiefs forward had to use Google to find Sandy Park

Jacques Vermeulen
Jacques Vermeulen scored on his debut for Exeter in the Premiership Cup in September

Jacques Vermeulen was not a household name when he was signed by Exeter last summer.

But it turns out that the Premiership leaders were not exactly on the South African's radar either before he decided to move across the world and join the Chiefs.

Since making his Premiership debut in October the 24-year-old has become a first-choice in the back row.

The former Sharks flanker has scored big tries in his last two outings for the Chiefs - what proved to be the winning score in the 14-7 victory over champions Saracens in December and the bonus-point try in the 31-31 draw with Glasgow that sealed Exeter's progression to the last eight of the Champions Cup.

"My first chat was with [director of rugby] Rob Baxter and I didn't know anything about the UK because I'd never been," Vermeulen told BBC Sport.

"I literally went on Google to just check a few places."

After that rather inauspicious start, Vermeulen's career has blossomed at Sandy Park, where he signed a three-year deal before the start of the season having had three years on the Sharks' squad for both Super Rugby and the Currie Cup.

"I just think the model we use at Exeter Chiefs fits my type of play and made it easy for me to fit in here," he said.

"It's lovely to be here and at loose forward in the team there are a lot of guys competing for the jersey so that's good to know. It doesn't make life easier, but it makes it easier to perform on the weekend because you know all the guys are chasing the positions."

'I had an expectation he'd be good'

Jacques Vermeulen
Jacques Vermeulen helped South Africa to third place in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup

While Vermeulen's rise has surprised many supporters, it has not astonished the man who hired him.

"I had an expectation he'd be good in the Premiership and then in the European competition," Baxter told BBC Sport. "Perhaps how quickly he's settled in is a different question.

"And the best thing is there's still a fair bit more there. He's still developing his learning of some of our systems and especially some of the calling around the line-out. He's thriving on it and he's going to get better and better."

Vermeulen and compatriot Jannes Kirsten, who also joined the club in 2019, share a house together in Exeter and are part of a burgeoning South African contingent in the Premiership.

He will face his friends and former Sharks teammates, brothers Robert, Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez when their Sale side visit Devon next week - having already played against the Premiership's Sharks twice in back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures last month.

That Sale squad also boasts the Springboks' World Cup-winning scrum-half Faf de Klerk and fellow countrymen Lood de Jager and Akker van der Merwe.

So could Vermeulen, who has represented South Africa Under-20s but still awaits a first senior cap, be the next Springbok to be plying his trade in the Premiership?

"I'll take that call-up any day if it comes," he said. "For any guy that gets a call-up for the Springboks it's a huge privilege.

"But I still need to work hard on my game and I know in the Premiership there's a lot of world-class players, so it's good to play against the best."

That is an opinion backed up by his boss at Sandy Park.

"South Africa have just won the World Cup, their skipper [Siya Kolisi] plays in the back row, the World Player of the Year [Pieter-Steph du Toit] is another of their back-rowers, so there's two slots taken up with pretty good players," says Baxter.

"It isn't necessarily that Jacques playing well here automatically puts him on that radar because if there's one area in South African rugby that is incredibly strong it's the back five of the scrum."