Cornal Hendricks (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
- The Currie Cup win sealed Cornal Hendricks’ Cinderella story, but the winger-turned-centre has also made a case for an unthinkable Springbok return.
- Hendricks last played for Boks in 2015, the year he was told he could never play rugby again because of a heart defect.
- Hendricks was crowned Man-of-the-Match during the Bulls’ Currie Cup final win over the Sharks.
The Currie Cup win sealed Cornal Hendricks’ Cinderella story, but the winger-turned-centre has also made a case for an unthinkable Springbok return.
Hendricks last donned the green and gold in 2015 against the All Blacks, the same year he was told he could never play rugby again because of a heart defect.
It crushed the then-27-year-old, whose career was approaching an unbelievable peak, crowned by a move to the Stormers, where he never played a single game.
After three years out of elite rugby, Hendricks got a chance to play again, this time for the Bulls in 2019 aged 30, where he has flourished.
On Saturday, the fairy tale came to a whimsical, heart-warming climax when the Bulls beat the Sharks 26-19 at Loftus, and Hendricks was crowned Man-of-the-Match.
His coach Jake White said he wasn’t only the best player on the day but could well be their player of the season.
“He’s been phenomenal,” White said after the match.
“He’s probably been our best player. I played him there, spoke to (assistant coach) Chris Rossouw about him and he’s been phenomenal.
“A lot of guys that have played in the No 12 jersey before like Ma’a Nonu and Tana Umaga have always started on the wing.
“He’s got a great appreciation for space and understanding of what guys in the midfield need to do.
“You’ve obviously got a guy like Morne Steyn, who’s been around and Ivan van Zyl, who looks after him.
“And don’t underestimate the youngsters like David Kriel, Stravino Jacobs, Kurt-Lee Arendse … they are going to learn a lot from a guy like Cornal.
“I’m saying the obvious but he’s very professional, dedicated, and he’s a great communicator and works hard.”
The Springboks’ playing chances might be lingering in the air, especially with the coronavirus still wreaking havoc in the country and Britain, which has put the British and Irish Lions tour in jeopardy.
But a Hendricks recall, nearly six years after that last international appearance, wouldn’t be implausible after the outstanding performances in the Bulls midfield.
White, who is enamoured with Hendricks, especially after his seamless transition from the three-quarters to first centre, wouldn’t be drawn on Springbok speculation, however.
“All I know is that he’s done well for the Bulls,” said White.
“He’s a Springbok, he’s been there, and he’s done it.
“He’s just sharing his knowledge with the guys and I’m really happy about that, especially because he can play wing and centre.
“That’s a great bonus for him going forward.
“[But] having coached the Springboks, I don’t think it’s fair for provincial coaches to talk about who they think should or shouldn’t play for South Africa.
“We’re world champions, we’ve got some great coaches and Rassie (Erasmus) and Jacques (Nienaber) know what they’re looking for.
“I’m sure, if they think he’s good enough and that he’ll add value, then they’ll pick him.”