He's the forgotten man of South African rugby and when Hanyani Shimange dropped out of the Springbok squad last week following the announcement of the 46-man training group, nobody seemed to notice or ask what had happened to the journeyman hooker.

This time last year Shimange, ostensibly the number two hooker in the country, was the understudy to Springbok captain John Smit.

He was one of the 24 contracted Springboks and as far as he was concerned, heading for the World Cup later this year, as coach Jake White had said the squad was virtually cast in stone.

Today Shimange doesn't even have a union to play for after being laid off by Boland in the wake of the Fidentia meltdown and his plight has made a mockery of South African rugby's transformation objectives.

Few would argue against the inclusion of Bulls hooker Gary Botha and Sharks No 2 Bismarck du Plessis in the national squad. But over the past three seasons Shimange has sat on the sidelines in more matches than he has started and there's a case to argue that he's never been allowed to fulfil his potential.

Of the five contracted Boks axed from the 46-man squad, only Shimange doesn't have a union to play for and he was the only black player to fall out. And while the storm erupted over Luke Watson's immediate future and his relationship with White, nobody was even asking what had happened to Shimange.

Now he's hoping that Western Province, the team he played for last season before relocating to Wellington in the hope of getting more game-time, might give him a lifeline.

Astonishingly, for a player who has played 31 Super 14 matches and nine Tests, all as a reserve, since he made his debut against Wales in 2004, Shimange's name didn't even surface last Tuesday when rugby bosses debated the composition of the Springbok squad with White.

What was revealed this week was that SARU deputy president Mike Stofile had argued the merits of Shimange's former Stormers teammate, Schalk Brits, against the credentials of Smit when the squad was debated .

Shimange seems to have barely been mentioned.

And yet last season, when WP beat the Bulls in the Currie Cup at Newlands, we all saw what Shimange was capable of on an occasion when he tore into the Bulls pack non-stop. After the game coach Kobus van der Merwe said he had played his finest game for WP.

Why then, barely a few months later , is the 29-year-old in the rugby wilderness?

"I've been injured this season, recovering from tendonitis in the knee," explained Shimange this week.

And yet, the man who produced his best rugby while playing for the Cats in 2004 while still in the Cheetahs camp, when he was given an extended run of six Super 12 matches, has spent most of his career warming the bench in Currie Cup, Super rugby and Test matches.

It's an odd scenario for a player who was officially the second best hooker in the country and the unfortunate substitute standing in for the Springbok skipper.

In last year's Super 14, Shimange only started three games for the Stormers, in all instances being replaced by Brits. He came on as a substitute himself in three games and sat on the bench in five.

Then in the Currie Cup he started only four matches for WP and came on as a reserve in three and sat on the bench in five. New signing Tiaan Liebenberg started the last five matches for the striped jerseys.

It could be argued that Shimange was never given an extended run to build any momentum with either the Stormers or WP. And then, when Chilliboy Ralepelle surfaced from the Under 21-side, he was dropped from the national squad faster than a hot potato.

This explains why the frustrated, perennial number two moved to Boland this season in the quest for more game-time that hasn't materialised.

"I spoke to the coach at WP (Kobus van der Merwe) about it last year," said Shimange. But asked what he had said to his former coach, he refused to elaborate: "It's confidential. That was between me and the coach," he replied.

In the national squad he was always a player who fitted in well with the Springbok psyche, accepting his plight that as understudy to Smit, he couldn't expect to be given extended game-time.

"I am very proud of my nine Test caps and that I became a Springbok," he said of his achievements.

Nevertheless, at the age of 29 and with four hookers (Smit, Botha, Du Plessis and Ralepelle) now ahead of him in the pecking order, there's little guarantee Shimange will ever play Test rugby again.

The sands of time are running out for the Rondebosch Boys' High old boy and nobody appears to be galloping over the horizon with a contract for the forgotten Springbok.

"Right now I just want to get over my injury and start playing again. Then I'll take it from there," he said of a future uncertain.