South Africa will give World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi every chance to recover from Covid-19 in time for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions.
Inspirational leader Kolisi tested positive for coronavirus on July 11 and immediately went into a 10-day isolation period.
The back-rower missed South Africa A’s 17-13 win over the Lions on Wednesday and remains unavailable for the Springboks’ A side’s clash with the Bulls on Saturday.
Kolisi now faces a race against time to be available for the first Test in Cape Town on Saturday, July 24 due to return-to-play protocols.
But head coach Jacques Nienaber has confirmed the Springboks are keeping an open mind on selection despite having dealt with more than 20 Covid cases in their camp.
Asked if he would consider selecting players for the first Test who had been unable to feature in this week’s two A team fixtures, Nienaber replied: “Yes, definitely.
“When we select the players that haven’t played up to now it must be somebody who physically has proved to us that he can do it.
“So let’s say it’s a player that hasn’t played – we must have the comfort in the player that this scenario has happened before, and we have put the player in a game without him being exposed to a lot of game time, or to our systems, and he’s produced before.
“That will be one of the only reasons why we’ll do that.
“And also if it’s a player that has been in our system for a long time, that understands what we are trying to achieve.
“It will be tough for a player who has been part of us for a while but who hasn’t played for us ever – it will be tough for them, getting used to the way we do things.
“So yes, it will be an option but it won’t be the norm, it will be outliers.
“The players know and we’re quite open and honest and transparent on our selection process, and physical readiness is one of the top things.
“And physically means you’ve got to be medically fit and conditioning-wise fit and we must have the opportunity to have coached you.
“So that’s probably one of the big things that we will look at.
Sometimes a player can tick a box that they are medically fit, physically we are happy with his conditioning, and then, have we coached this player a lot.”
Asked if all the Boks players will have completed their return-to-play protocols in time for the first Lions Test, Nienaber continued: “I’m not 100 per cent sure on that.
“I’d probably lie if I were to give you any other answer.
“There’s lots of criteria and for me as a coach, we have true medical professionals that run that for us.
“They are on top of it, so every morning we as a coaching group just get feedback from them.
“They will definitely tell us when players can start joining team training.
“So we just want to know when players can join us for training and we work with the players that we have available, and don’t break our heads with the guys in the process.
“That’s up to the doctors, they must get them ready.
“And the moment those guys are ready to join our group, we will take them and we will work with them.
“When a player tests positive for Covid they then go into isolation for 10 days.
“But they are not then eligible to play straight away, they then need to go through return-to-play protocols before they can be selected.
“So if a player tests positive for Covid it might take him 16 to 17 days to get back into the mix.”
South Africa have drafted prop Wilco Louw into their squad and the Harlequins front-rower will take a seat on the bench for Saturday’s A fixture against the Bulls.
Nienaber explained that the Gallagher Premiership winner’s inclusion also revolves around coronavirus concerns.
“With our players that tested positive for Covid we unfortunately only had four props available,” said Nienaber.
“So if one of them had got injured we wouldn’t have been able to field a full front-row and a bench and then you’d have to forfeit the match. So that’s why we’ve got Wilco in.”