Social media has been awash with speculation that there was a hidden plan to change the squad to allow for the inclusion of 2019 World Cup-winning flyhalf Handre Pollard.

“I’m not on social media but I am told there was this massive outcry and conspiracy,” said a baffled Nienaber.

“That there’s this plot that we take four nines and we’re going to get Handre in! But how can you pick a guy in your World Cup squad and then tell him, ‘listen, fake an injury, we want to get another guy in’? It’s mad! We would never do that.

“If there are no injuries between now and the end of the tournament this whole 33 that flies out today will be the 33 that flies back.”

Nienaber explained that Pollard was a quarter of the way back to full match fitness, but could only be involved in the tournament through an injury to another player – and if the injured player’s position had sufficient cover.

“Handre is currently not injured – he has now had two full sessions with us, but he is still on his way back,” said the Bok coach.

“We’ve got six years of data by position now – whether it’s flyhalf, loose forward, whatever – on what a player in that position needs to do during the week to give us an opportunity to win on Saturday.

“That might be metrics like high-speed running, how many kilometres he has done, how many accelerations and decelerations to be ready to perform physically on Saturday. If you look at Handre currently, he is probably only at 20 to 25 percent.

Handre Pollard.

Handre Pollard.

“To ask him to play now is like asking someone to run a Comrades in three weeks – and you have to perform in that Comrades – but you can only train 10kms a week. Will you make it? You might make it, you might walk and make it, but it will be luck.

“Where we learnt this lesson was in 2011. We had 27 of the [2007] World Cup winning squad that year but at some stages there were only 17 players training. And that didn’t work for us back then.

“Handre is probably 20% to 25% of what a guy like Manie [Libbok] or Damian [Willemse] is doing during the week and then they play a Test match. We can push him to 80% but I promise you, the risk of then losing him in the next two to three weeks will be 80% or 90% - it’s a numbers game.”

Nienaber also questioned why the positive contribution of players such Damian Willemse, Manie Libbok and lock Marvin Orie, who had replaced injured World Cup winners in the past 12 months, was being ignored.

“Handre has not played since the Adelaide Test we lost in Australia last year,” he said. “Damian played at flyhalf in the next one and it was the first time that South Africa had beaten Australia in Sydney since Ian Mac [McIntosh] was the coach – something like 29 years.

“Since then, he and Manie have been the flyhalf and we’ve only lost three games out of 10 that they‘ve been the 10 – can you imagine how Damian and Manie are feeling?

“Everyone makes this hoo-ha about Handre being injured but no-one says, ‘listen you guys, these two guys are not too bad and, you know they are actually alright’.

“Same with Lood [de Jager] and Marvin Orie. Everyone focuses on the negative side – what about the guy who stood in for him. Lood didn’t play against Italy, we won; he didn’t play against England, we won; he didn’t play against Australia, we won; he played against New Zealand, we lost; he didn’t play against Argentina, we won; he didn’t play against Argentina again, we won!

“Lood is a phenomenal player and a genius in the lineout but as coaches we don’t look at it as if it’s a crisis because that’s why we’ve been building depth and giving a guy like Marvin the opportunity in test matches so that if something does happen to a Lood, then you have a guy who has done it for you in test matches.”

The Springboks travelled via Dubai and Paris to Cardiff, where they are next in action, against Wales at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.