CAPE TOWN – Just as Simphiwe Matanzima was working his way back from a shoulder injury last year, disaster struck as he sustained a tear of the Achilles tendon.
It was during a conditioning session that it happened, and it meant that the loosehead prop would spend a total of 15 months out of the sport.
That is why last week’s return to the Bulls side for the Currie Cup opener against Western Province was so satisfying, despite the 48-24 defeat at Loftus Versfeld.
“It was more a mental challenge than a physical challenge. There were a lot of things you can’t do, and you were alone most of the time,” the 23-year-old recalled during an online press conference from Loftus yesterday.
“So, I felt like the one thing that helped me is to allow yourself to feel it – you can’t run away from it. You know you are going to be out for a long time. You know it’s a very serious injury, and things might go right, things might go wrong…
“So, you just need to allow yourself to deal with all those emotions. That helped me a lot.”
Matanzima was one of only two Bulls with Currie Cup experience on show – along with wing Kefentse Mahlo – as the rest of the senior side where either in Italy for the Rainbow Cup final, injured or called up to the Springboks, Blitzboks or Junior Boks.
The youngster from Komani (formerly Queenstown) in the Eastern Cape was always in for a tough time against WP, considering the lack of experience around him upfront.
It didn’t help when he received a yellow card for collapsing the rampaging Province maul, which saw WP hooker JJ Kotze score four tries, but he was pleased with his efforts on the day.
“I felt good. I had played a club game, one or two, before Saturday, so that helped me a lot. I was a bit rusty, but I generally thought that… I felt like myself. I don’t feel like anything was (missing) from what I did before. I am just happy and want to kick on,” he said.
“It’s never nice watching from the outside, so it’s awesome to be back with the team now.
“I wasn’t actually worried about the injury because I had been scrumming for about two months or so, and I had scrummed in the club game. It was just a different level, and coming up against a good Province pack – that was a bit challenging. But ja, I felt good generally.”
Now the in-form Pumas are up next at Loftus Versfeld on Friday, fresh off a 39-10 triumph over a lacklustre Lions side in Mbombela.
The Mpumalanga side always have a point to prove, especially against their illustrious cousins from Pretoria, and will look to challenge the Bulls’ mental state following the Rainbow Cup final defeat at the hands of Benetton.
“There’s nothing we can change about what happened (in Italy). We are just focusing on the Currie Cup now, and all the boys are looking forward to that and excited about a new journey,” Matanzima said.
“We always want to win at home, so in that sense, you would say yes (we are feeling the pressure of not wanting to lose two consecutive home games). But we know what we can do and we just want to go out and play as a team.
“They’ve got a good pack. Playing the Pumas, it’s always a physical game, and they like mauling and always bring it. So, it’s going to be a tough, physical battle for us… but we are ready for that.”