Former Springbok wing Cornal Hendricks knows all about the highs and lows of rugby and life.
After all he has reached the top of world rugby only to have the rug unceremoniously pulled from under his feet and have his career end in a flash.
Three years ago Hendricks was at the top of his game commanding a starting berth in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok team and a certainty to go to the World Cup in England but a problem with his heart abruptly ended it all.
Hendricks reveals that his world came crashing down on him and this as he was starting to live out his dreams and was told that he would be taking over from legendary Springbok wing Bryan Habana.
Life could not be better at the time for Hendricks as he had already committed himself to a lucrative contract with Western Province and the Stormers after a stint at the Free State Cheetahs and was going to be closer to his family and home in the Boland.
In an instant Hendricks life was turned upside down and from the lofty heights of rugby superstardom, Hendricks found himself without a Springbok contract and not a single union in the country wanting to even talk to him.
“Three years ago I had a setback where I was told about my condition and I was told I can't play professional rugby any more. I'd been in this game for a long time and rugby is the only thing I know. It's not easy to come back from a setback like that. I didn't take the news very lightly and it broke me in a way but I always said to people that if I didn't walk a path with the Lord, I probably have now. I had a lot of challenges along the way with some unions also turning me down,” a beaming Hendricks said from his new home at Loftus Versfeld.
While the 30-year-old Hendricks has never divulged what exactly it is that he suffers from, he is wasting no time in grabbing with both hands the new lease on life that he has been granted by the Bulls in signing him ahead of next year’s Super Rugby competition.
Surprisingly Hendricks is not bitter about the three years of his rugby life that was spent as a rugby mercenary around the world playing in various Sevens and Tens tournaments while grappling with the many missed opportunities of becoming a global star.
Even after being shunned by South African rugby at the news of his heart condition, Hendricks had managed to sign a deal with French and European giants Toulon only for the contract to be rescinded with the French team citing his heart condition.
And it is the deep, dark and unseen corners of the lows he has experienced that seem to be the light in Hendricks second coming at the Bulls as he looks forward to making the best of every moment on the field and in imparting his life story with the younger generation of rugby stars.
“I missed out on the 2015 Rugby World Cup and I was disappointed because I really thought I was going to make the squad because then Meyer said he was going to pick a fit squad and I think I was one of the fittest players in the squad. I put in all the hard work and then getting the news that you're not going to the World Cup was a huge setback. I was at the top of my career. I was 26 and Meyer had already told me I was going to be the next in line after Bryan Habana. I was looking forward to that because I'd signed a contract with the Stormers. If I think about the year's I've missed and all the touring with the guys and all the nice stuff with the team. I've also missed that but in the three years I've been out, I've grown wiser as a human being. I've also got a glimpse of how life will be after rugby. That's why I told myself if a union is going to give me an opportunity, I'll use the time to chat with youngsters in regards with life after rugby,” said Hendricks.
Even before the news of his heart condition Hendricks had lived a full rugby life having been part of the Springbok Sevens team that had won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow in 2014 and had scored five tries in his 12 Test match appearances including tries against the Wallabies in Perth and the All Blacks in Wellington.
But for Hendricks it is his second rugby life that will be more meaningful and closer to his heart as he returns to the game at the very Loftus that made the careers of two influential figures in Hendricks career in Meyer and Habana.
Hendricks has no fear of what may happen with his heart as he has been medically cleared to play.
“I've been cleared by the two leading heart specialists as you've all heard now and I'm glad to be back on the field.”
What might just give Hendricks some palpitations in the coming months is the prophetic words of Meyer and how he can truly take over the mantle from Habana as one of Loftus’ most loved sons.
"I'm not scared. I'm looking forward to it and I feel like I'm five years younger,” said Hendricks as he spoke from the heart about the highs and lows of his rugby career that is far from over.@Vata_Ngobeni