PARIS (Reuters) - Duane Vermeulen was initially considered not fit enough to embark on South Africa's end-of-year tour to Europe but could end up captaining the Springboks when they meet Italy next weekend.
The giant number eight was an emergency call-up to the squad after South Africa's 38-3 thrashing in Ireland earlier this month and started Saturday's test in Paris where he played a pivotal role in the Springboks' 18-17 win over France.
He put on the captain's armband after a leg injury forced Eben Etzebeth off and could be named skipper for the test in Padova on Saturday if the lock does not recover in time, with vice captain Siya Kolisi returning home for family reasons.
"I don't know why the coach chose me to lead the side at that point. There are other guys in the team who are capable of doing the job. I really enjoyed it," Vermeulen told reporters.
"It's a great honour to have that responsibility and you will never turn it down," he added after being lauded by coach Allister Coetzee for managing the closing stages as the Boks were able to run down the clock and secure a much-needed win.
"It's a good comeback by the side considering what happened in Dublin. That result against Ireland was a bit shocking and disappointing.
"I wasn't yet with the team when they got together for a meeting the day after but I know that some hard words were spoken. Things started to happen. I joined the squad on the Monday and already it seemed like changes were afoot.
"The pace of the game against France took some getting used to. There was a bit of pressure on me coming into this game, but in the end it turned out fine. I didn't realise how much I've missed being part of this set-up."
It was his first test in almost 18 months after several injuries and a move to Toulon in France.
"It wasn't pretty and I doubt people will remember it as one of the great wins, but the important thing is that we worked hard for each other right up until the final whistle. It could have gone either way," he said.
"We're happy with the result and it will certainly lift the morale." South Africa, who have experienced a topsy-turvy year, will finish their tour against Wales in Cardiff on Dec. 2 after the clash against the Italians.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by John O'Brien)