CAPE TOWN – Scarra Ntubeni’s smile absolutely lights up a room.
From the moment he stops to greet each member of the press personally before fulfilling every individual media request, even though he is already 15 minutes late for an appointment, Ntubeni keeps on smiling.
It is a smile that has wormed its way into the hearts of the Western Province faithful since the hooker’s provincial debut against the Blue Bulls back in 2011.
Unfortunately for Province fans and the 26-year-old, there has not been much to smile about since last September, when Ntubeni snapped his Achilles against the Sharks.
It was an injury so horrific that WP coach John Dobson believed it to be “a devastating, devastating injury for Scarra”. Even Ntubeni wondered “if I was ever going to play again”.
Those were the dark days, but fortunately for Ntubeni and Province, there is light starting to emerge at the end of a long tunnel.
Ntubeni made his comeback last Saturday in the 45-34 victory over the Bulls at Newlands, which ironically was also his 50th game in the blue-and-white-hooped jersey.
“I think it was quite good to get some time again. Nice to be part of the team environment again, where the players and coaches back you. It was just great to be on the field again,” Ntubeni said at the WP High Performance Centre in Bellville on Monday.
“It was very tough (the injury), especially in the beginning. Not knowing how long it was going to take or if I was ever going to play again.
“But the union was very good to me. The medical staff were tremendous. I just had to do my part. Work hard, set myself new goals.”
For a player whose entire life was rugby, rugby and more rugby for the best part of a decade, Ntubeni believes the enforced break allowed him to appreciate aspects of his life outside of the game.
“I have a lot of off-field support. I kept myself very busy, charities and things like that. I think that it is very important to have that outside of rugby, because it taught me a lot.
“Sometimes you get caught in this rugby bubble… it was good in a way to be outside of it. I learnt a lot.”
This fresh mindset has certainly had a positive influence on Ntubeni’s game too. For all his energy and skill in the loose, the primary facets of his game have always needed some polishing.
But on Saturday, Ntubeni was right on the mark with his lineout-throwing, finding captain Chris van Zyl and JD Schickerling with regularity.
“We kept it quite simple. We didn’t bring in too many options. That was the key to get the confidence back. It’s a young team, but to have guys like Chris and JC does calm the nerves a bit. We just wanted to do the basics and keep things very simple,” he explained.
Ntubeni’s comeback will continue this Friday at Newlands, when the Lions travel south, armed with lineout guru Victor Matfield within their ranks.
The Springbok legend recently joined the Ellis Park side and will no doubt have a few special plans for Province this week.
“He (Matfield) has over 250 first-class games, including 127 Test matches, so obviously he knows what he’s doing. That will definitely be a factor. We’ll try and do our homework. We also have good coaches,” Ntubeni said.
“We won’t focus a lot on them. We just want to execute our side. To be consistent. It will be a big challenge. (Ryan Kankowski) Kanko also comes with a lot of experience. He’s back in the mix. It’s going to be exciting.”
Meanwhile, Bjorn Basson’s injury is not as serious as initially suspected and the wing could still play another significant role in Province’s Currie Cup campaign.
Basson has not broken his collarbone as it was initially feared, with WP attack coach Dawie Snyman stating on Monday it was just a “hard old knock against the shoulder joint”.