Jacques Nienaber has opened the door to a Springbok recall for Cornal Hendricks if the Vodacom Bulls star can be cleared by the national team’s doctors, reports DEVIN HERMANUS.
Nienaber has also clarified the notable omissions of Duane Vermeulen (knee) and Frans Steyn (hamstring) in a 48-man Bok squad chosen for the July series against Wales, the Rugby Championship, and the November tour to Europe.
Hendricks has starred for the Bulls under Jake White, at centre and wing, and will be a key player against the Stormers when the two sides meet in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship final on Saturday.
The 34-year-old’s Bok omission last year was one of the biggest talking points as he outperformed many of his peers. Having last played for the Boks in 2015, before he was forced into semi-retirement due to a heart condition, many pundits believed Hendricks had done enough to earn a recall.
In 2021, SA’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said Hendricks would have been called up had medical issues not ruled him out, and speaking during a Bok media conference on Tuesday, Nienaber said the national coaches would not hesitate to pick him if his situation changes.
“I know it sounds weird and funny, but our medical team hasn’t got the green light that he’s all clear for us [to select him]. We can only go on what our medical team and our specialist give us as selectors,” the Bok coach said.
“Obviously, the Bulls have people advising them and we have people advising us. I hope it gets sorted out because obviously he’s playing some good rugby and he’s somebody that we definitely have our eye on and we track him and we do performance analysis on him.
“The Bulls medical team, they decided, ‘Listen, this guy clearly can play’. Our guys must do the same from our side and the moment we as selectors and coaches get a green light, he is up for selection.”
On Vermeulen and Steyn, who are both nursing injuries, Nienaber added: “Duane will go for a procedure and he’s under rehabilitation with his club [Ulster]. Frans is a player we will probably pull into the squad during this year, but we had an open conversation with him.
“We said, ‘Do your rehab, make sure that you are 100% right and in good physical condition and when we pick up an injury, we will pull you into the squad asap.”
A 17-man squad based in Pretoria is in its second week of preparation for the home series against Wales, but the Bok boss admitted it is difficult to replicate match intensity.
However, Nienaber said he would rather see the likes of uncapped players Evan Roos and Elrigh Louw battling it out for the Stormers and Bulls, respectively, in the URC final, or Jasper Wiese and Vincent Koch involved in the English Premiership playoffs.
“I think if you look at the long-term development of the players who’re playing in these big quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals … you want players to play in big games and the experience they gain. It’s invaluable.”