Loosehead prop Simphiwe Matanzima has always been considered a top-class prospect by the Bulls, ever since their scouts lured him from Queens College in the Eastern Cape to Pretoria, but a devastating double injury blow has prevented him from making a mark in the new Jake White era.
Now 23 years old, Matanzima made his Bulls senior debut in a Super Rugby derby against the Stormers in 2019. But in the opening round of the 2020 southern hemisphere competition he suffered a dislocated shoulder and then, when he made his return to training, he tore his Achilles tendon last July.
So it has been a long way back for Matanzima and he finally got back on the field for the Bulls in their Currie Cup match against Western Province last weekend, putting in a lively display.
“I was out for 15 months and I’m just glad I’m done with rehab,” Matanzima said on Wednesday.
“I played one club game for Naka Bulle and I’m pleased that my first game back for the Bulls is now out the way. I was a bit rusty although I’ve been scrumming for the last couple of months, but I felt like myself, and now I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season.”
“Coming back was more of a mental challenge than physical because there’s a lot you can’t do and you’re alone a lot of the time,” he added. “And it was a very serious injury so you worry that things might go wrong. You’ve just got to allow yourself to work through those emotions.
“With one squad in Italy and us only training together for a week, it was always going to be tough for us against Western Province (last weekend) but we fought well.
“Jake White and Russell Winter have had a massive impact and it’s great learning from them. It’s never nice watching from the outside and it’s awesome to be back in the team now.”
Since he suffered those injuries, the Bulls have signed Jacques van Rooyen, an old bull who has done really well on both sides of the scrum, and Gerhard Steenekamp has also made a big impact. Plus there is Lizo Gqoboka snapping on the heels of the Springbok looseheads and clearly a force to be reckoned with.
“The more competition the better, that’s how you build squad depth, it’s healthy,” Matanzima said.
“It’s nice to challenge yourself and to scrum against strong packs, I relish the opportunity and the Pumas on Friday night will have a good pack. They are a strong side, they always play a physical game, they bring it, and they love to maul. So we know what to expect.
“But we also know what we can do if we play as a team. It’s going to be a tough battle.”