Luke Watson has blown his chance of forcing his way into the World Cup squad by withdrawing himself from the Springbok tour for the away leg of the Tri-Nations.
Instead of running out with the Springbok team to play Australia in Sydney on Saturday, Watson, who has made a remarkable recovery from the rib injury that ruled him out of the tour, will return to captain Western Province in their Currie Cup away match against the Sharks on Friday evening.
"Yes I'll definitely be back on Friday, my ribs have healed and I'm looking forward to the game," said Watson yesterday.
However, Springbok convener of selectors, Peter Jooste, revealed that the final 30-man World Cup squad would be announced in two-and-a-half weeks' time, on July 21.
Jooste declined to comment on Watson's prospects, but expressed surprise that the WP captain had recovered from his injury so fast.
Watson was initially announced in the 28-man Bok touring squad, but withdrew immediately after WP coach Kobus van der Merwe said last weekend that it would take 10 days before they would even be able to look at him for Currie Cup selection.
Six days after that pronouncement Van der Merwe said that Watson, who sat in the stands watching WP lose to Boland in Wellington on Saturday, would be fit to play in the third round of the Currie Cup in Durban on Friday.
Van der Merwe had also questioned the fitness of WP wing Tonderai Chavhanga, who finished the game with a groin injury against the Lions last Saturday, but still flew out with the Springboks to Sydney.
The WP coach said Chavhanga "could hardly walk" after the Lions game and he did not see how he could tour with the Springboks.
But Chavhanga, who won his only Test cap against Uruguay in 2005, scoring six tries on debut, gave a different prognosis of his injury.
"It's only a niggle and it's fine already. Nothing will stop me touring and getting my second Springbok cap," he said on the day that Van der Merwe was ruling him out "for a long time, with a serious injury".
Chavhanga did train with the Springboks in Sydney this week, but was not selected for Saturday's Wallaby game. It now remains to be seen whether he will be fit enough to play against the All Blacks in the final tour game in Christchurch next weekend.
Watson's withdrawal from the touring squad came after he had made his Test debut against Samoa at Ellis Park three weeks ago, being substituted early in the second half with the rib injury. He returned against the Lions two weeks later and finished the game, before announcing that he had suffered a recurrence of the injury.
But had Watson gone on tour, he would have started against Australia on Saturday.
Springbok coach Jake White had never made a secret of his intention not to pick Watson for the Springbok squad. But White backed down and agreed to play him against Samoa and select him for the away leg of the Tri-Nations.
All this was agreed to at a meeting in Durban in May between White, the Springbok selectors, SARU President Oregan Hoskins, deputy president Mike Stofile and Springbok manager Zola Yeye.
Watson made his Test debut as one of the most hotly debated Springbok selections of the post-isolation era, following lobbying by politicians and senior SARU officials on his behalf.
However, after the Samoa Test senior Springboks had refused to initiate him into the squad, saying his selection had been forced on White by Yeye, Stofile and Hoskins and who should perform the traditional post-debut ritual themselves.
Watson did not protest, saying he did not want to be initiated into the side anyway.
Although Watson did not play with distinction in his Test debut, a starring role in the away leg of the Tri-Nations might have re-opened his case for World Cup selection.
Now Watson only has two Currie Cup games left to play to catch the eye, against a Sharks team missing 13 Springboks and a Bulls side that has been as heavily depleted.
But these are watered down Currie Cup matches, with so many Springboks withdrawn.
Yet had Watson gone on the Tri-Nations tour and produced against two of the strongest teams in the world, White and the Springbok selectors may have been forced to reconsider him for the World Cup.
Now Watson will have to wait another four years to fulfil his ambition of playing in the showpiece, in New Zealand, where he might have played his third Test match against the All Blacks next weekend.