Vermeulen starts fitness race after successful surgery

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Duane Vermeulen is hopeful of making a rapid recovery after undergoing successful neck surgery but the Springboks number eight realises the hard rehabilitation work starts now if he wants to be fit for the World Cup.

The South Africa Player of the Year is the biggest concern on a long injury list for the Springboks, who have also been rocked by the news that fellow loose-forward Willem Alberts is a doubt for the tournament in England starting on Sept. 18.

"I'm feeling good and positive and can't wait to start my rehabilitation," Vermeulen was quoted in a press release from South African Rugby Union (SARU) on Thursday.

South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said the national side's medical team would be working tirelessly to get Vermeulen ready to be considered for the World Cup.

"Duane is mentally very tough and he is a warrior who has always bled for his country and I'm expecting exactly the same attitude from him towards his rehabilitation," Meyer said.

"He is a team player who has often played through the pain barrier and I know nothing will hold him back, while we will do everything we can to get Duane ready in time for the World Cup."

Team doctor Craig Roberts said South Africa were "confident" Vermeulen would win his fitness race following Wednesday's surgery.

"The operation went well and we're grateful to the medical personnel who looked after Duane. The road to recovery is a long one but we're confident that he can make it to the World Cup," he said.

Vermeulen will recuperate at home before joining the squad in Johannesburg upon their return from their Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Brisbane on July 18.

South Africa have been drawn in Pool B at the World Cup, alongside Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by John O'Brien)

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