The series decider against Wales on Saturday serves as an opportunity for Jaden Hendrikse to make the Springbok No 9 jersey his own as the onus is now on regular scrumhalf Faf de Klerk to reclaim the starting job.
This is according to coach Jacques Nienaber, who retained Hendrikse in a halfback pairing with last week’s stand-in skipper Handre Pollard.
De Klerk has been named on the bench after Nienaber recalled the core members that helped beat Wales in a nail-biting victory in the opening game at Loftus Versfeld, after a much-changed lineup lost 13-12 to Wales in Bloemfontein last week.
Speaking at a Bok conference on Tuesday, Nienaber told media: “We all know Faf brings lots of experience and is a world-class scrumhalf. But we all saw Jaden’s performance last weekend and we as a coaching group and selectors really thought that he performed well.
“If you look at our squad and the 42 that are here, there is a lot of competition and many in-form players knocking hard on the door.
“I think for the players who you would call the established players – the guys who have won a World Cup and a British & Irish Lions series – it’s key for them to focus on their performance week in and week out.
“For the other guys, if they perform well, that’s the way they get selected. Jaden will know that Faf will come hard for him to get his spot back, because he is a fighter. Jaden’s challenge now is to keep putting consistent performances in like he did on the weekend.”
Nienaber says it was 22-year-old Hendrikse’s all-round game management that gave him the edge over De Klerk for the series decider on Saturday.
“I thought he had a well-balanced game,” the SA boss added. “I thought he kicked well, his passing accuracy was really good, and he got a nice rhythm on our attack. His defence was strong, and all aspects of his game were very good.”
Hendrikse, who is set to run out at Cape Town Stadium for his fourth Test cap, plans to keep things simple and focus on the task at hand: “If the coaches back me, then I’m going in with a simple plan to do my basics well and do what the team needs to help them win.
“There are a bit of nerves, but once it comes closer to the game and once I do the first play, the nerves will go away, and then I just have to execute my job.
“For me, it’s just about trying to be myself and do what I can do and provide for the team.”
Nienaber mentioned Hendrikse’s form for the Sharks this season, and that the national team management were monitoring him closely.
“If you look at the performance analysis we did on him this season, he was really on form,” the Bok coach said.
“There wasn’t a big gap in terms of what he was producing with the Sharks and what we are looking for. It’s just consistent performances, not only last weekend. He has been with us from the start at training, and he’s been solid from then.”