ONE of the things I haven’t enjoyed watching over the past few years is the gradual erosion of rugby’s selling points over soccer as a sporting code.

For years rugby has traded on integrity, respect for authority and bravery as its main currencies.

Watching rugby teams use fake blood on players to gain unfair substitutions, scrumhalves shod in pink boots protest too much to milk penalties, and Jannie du Plessis arguing dismissively with referees over scrummaging, one can’t help but feel it’s not long before the game fully embraces soccer’s warped value system.

A performance like Duane Vermeulen’s against the All Blacks on Saturday went a long way towards restoring faith in rugby as a real man’s sport.

Having battled with a bruised rib cartilage for the whole week before the game, the Springbok eighthman’s day probably started with him spiking his cornflakes with cortisone, and the rest of the day carried on along similarly macho lines.

With an effort high on industry, resolution and raw courage, the 28-year-old put in a man-of-the-match performance to oversee his first win in a game against the All Blacks.

What with the NFL culture of producing a statistic for everything invading rugby, Vermeulen's output was measured at nine carries for 66m, metres, 10 tackles, three turnovers and three lineout takes. But to put a number on the Stormers No8’s ’ number eight’s superhuman influence of the Stormers’ No8 is to miss what he brings to the Bok team because there’s something intangible about his impact.

His chasing Read to the ends of the earth for the title of the best eighthman in the world has been a parallel for the Boks’ stalking of the All Blacks.

When he decides to take on two opponents with ball in hand, they know they are both going to be needed to stop him getting over the advantage line. When he hits an opponent hard in defence, referees have a hard time believing it was done legally.

And when he checks you skeef, you know you shouldn’t backchat.

IRB Player of the Year Kieran Read — his sparring partner for the best No8 in the world title — had it about right when he described Vermeulen him as “a beast of an African” last week.

It is being held in high esteem by both the public and the opposition that makes Vermeulen the engine that drives the Bok team, albeit an unlikely one.

This all looked impossible when Vermeulen had to cry off with a neck injury when he was first called up for the Boks in 2008. The feeling at the time was that his penchant for running through brick walls made it unlikely he would do well at the highest level.

But with each passing year he added to his game — lineout play, ball-pilfering and offloading in the tackle — to the point where he is arguably the finished article.

His chasing Read to the ends of the earth for the title of the best eighthman in the world has been a parallel for the Boks’ stalking of the All Blacks.

They carry the ball differently, Read looking like a racehorse among the backs in his role of mingling with them and offloading in the tackle, Vermeulen doing the donkey work of running through the biggest bruisers in front of him.

They both do good poaching work and are efficient at the lineouts, although Read probably consistently steals lineout ball more.

Yet on the evidence of performances this year (maybe with a little help from Read’s concussion troubles during the Super 15), Vermeulen has consistently been the better player.

Everyone has their idea of which players the Boks must keep in cotton wool for next year’s World Cup. Vermeulen is edging to the front of that queue, because he appears to be the heart and soul of the team.

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