Jacques Nienaber has hailed Siya Kolisi for his “old-fashioned hard work” in recovering from knee surgery in time to make it onto the field for the Springboks before the World Cup.
Kolisi will lead the Springboks in the World Cup warm-up match against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, 119 days after he went under the knife on a knee injury that was initially predicted to keep him out of the showpiece tournament.
It will be the first Test appearance of the year for the World Cup-winning captain and his first game since 22 April, when he was substituted in his last appearance for the Sharks before joining Racing 92.
“I don’t think people understand the sacrifices Siya has made to get to the point where he is ready to play rugby, nor how hard his support team has worked,” Nienaber, a physiotherapist by trade, said.
“From the beginning of his rehabilitation, he has had weekly markers set by the medical team that he had to achieve. He never missed one marker because he put in an outstanding effort to get through the injury stage by stage.
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“Siya has shown what can be achieved by old-fashioned hard work,” Nienaber continued. “He has been totally dedicated to getting fit to lead his country.
“He was fortunate in the sense that a host of guys in the squad have been through the same rehab from knee injuries and he was able to bounce things off those guys as he went through the different phases. It reassured him if he was told by these guys that they had similar sensations in the knee at the same stage.”
Kolisi is one of three returnees to South Africa’s matchday-23 to face Wales, with young scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse also back after having his build-up to the World Cup affected by a shoulder injury and the death of his father.
Nienaber said that both players had hit their targets to the point the Bok coaches are more than happy to let them start on Saturday.
“It wasn’t necessarily going to be this game, but it was going to be a case of playing whenever he was ready,” Nienaber said. “Whenever him and Jaden, who has come back from a long-term shoulder injury, was ready, it would have been great to play them.
“They are both ready and fit to go now for this game, but if Siya wasn’t ready and fit for this game, we were going to play him in the next game.
“The more games they have to get exposure, the better, but it’s nice to have him for two warm-up games.”
Nienaber says there is no predetermined gametime for Kolisi, as the Bok coaches are happy to let the loose forward empty the tank, even if that means replacing him in the first half.
“He will stay on for as long as he produces,” Nienaber explained.“He needs as many minutes as possible, but within reason. The aim for this fortnight is to get Siya battle-hardened to play against Scotland in our first World Cup game.
“That is why he is starting the game. That way we can monitor how he is going and then we will sub him as soon as we judge that he has had enough.”
Photo: Brenton EDWARDS/AFP