Cape Town - Lions captain and No 8 Warren Whietely has opened up on his decision to make himself unavailable for the Blitzboks this season.
Whiteley, who won gold with the Blitzboks at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, made his decision at a time when a host of 15s specialists were making themselves available for Neil Powell's squad.
The attraction for all of them was the 2016 Rio Olympics, but Whiteley said from Stellenbosch on Thursday that pledging his allegiance to the Blitzboks would have been detremental to the Lions.
"That was an extremely difficult decision … probably the most difficult decision in my career," said Whiteley.
"Myself and coach Neil (Powell) spoke on numerous occasions about it. We Skyped each other and I was actually going to fly down to Cape Town, we just didn’t have time.
"It’s still difficult for me. It’s not something I didn’t want to do … that wasn’t the decision.
"The decision was that I couldn’t do both at the same time and the role that I play at my provincial union … it just felt like I was walking away and turning my back on a team that I played for for three years."
It is clear that Whiteley still thinks about the Olympics often, but his decision is surely vindicated now that he has played himself back into Springbok contention.
"I can’t tell you that there’s not a part of me that wants to go to the Olympics because I’d be lying to you," he added.
"I want to be a part of that … something special … it’s an amazing group and I have so much respect for them and what they achieved.
"Unfortunately the timing just isn’t right and I have a job to do at a union that has given me a lot."
Whiteley is expected to challenge Duane Vermeulen for the No 8 jersey when the Springboks take on Ireland in Cape Town on June 11.