Cornal Hendricks has not only been the form inside centre in South Africa for the last year but he is acknowledged as the most amicable of team men. But all that does not seem as if it’s going to be enough to get him into the Springbok squad for the series against the British and Irish Lions.
While the likes of first-choice No 12 Damian de Allende, Francois Steyn, Jan Serfontein and Andre Esterhuizen can all justify their selections through their on-field displays and pedigree, there have been hints that Hendricks will not be chosen no matter how well he plays.
That’s because he is still pursuing a legal case against SA Rugby for terminating his contact at the end of 2015 when medical tests showed he had a heart defect.
Hendricks has since obtained several other opinions that say playing rugby does not put him at risk of a heart attack; and he has been producing heart-stopping rugby for the Bulls for the last couple of years. He believes SA Rugby’s doctors erred, but the organisation’s medical advisors are standing firm that playing Hendricks would be too much of a risk.
It would be a great pity if the 33-year-old had to miss out on selection simply because of a decision made in an office and not because of what happens out on the field, where Hendricks has played a key role in the Bulls’ dominance of local rugby, and he would have to be the unluckiest player to miss out on the Lions tour, even though there is plenty of depth at inside centre.
As far back as one goes through the mists of time in Springbok rugby, there has always been a surplus of loose forward talent and there are bound to be some unfortunate contenders in those positions who Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber are just not going to be able to squeeze in, however, much they would like to have them.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe has already lucked out with a knee injury, while Marco van Staden looks set to miss out even though he has been an outstanding openside flank for the highflying Bulls.
Kwagga Smith is a World Cup winner who has dropped off the radar a bit in Japan, and his place could be at risk. There could well only be room for one of the Du Preez brothers, Dan or Jean-Luc, who have been starring for Sale, and powerhouse Jacques Vermeulen has shown his hunger for a Springbok call-up by playing a major role in the Exeter Chiefs’ success last year in winning both the English Premiership and the European Champions Cup.
Sharks tighthead Thomas du Toit is another member of the World Cup squad whose place is not assured. That’s because the three leading tightheads are surely Frans Malherbe, Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane, and Steven Kitshoff, Lizo Gqoboka and Ox Nche should be the frontrunners for loosehead.
But Du Toit, who was a late replacement for Nyakane at the World Cup, is the obvious choice if the Springboks want a seventh prop, who can swing both sides of the scrum.
Even then, there are hardcore masters of the mystic art of scrummaging like Wilco Louw, Coenie Oosthuizen and Jacques van Rooyen who are set to lose out, while it is difficult to see where the Lions pairing of Carlu Sadie and Sti Sithole, who are rapidly moving to the forefront of the local game, can fit in.
The 45-man Bok squad will be named on Saturday evening.