PRETORIA – It took Springbok and Bulls wing Jamba Ulengo just two games in Super Rugby to prove his class after being sidelined by a serious knee injury since last year.
In the Bulls' 43-34 win against the Jaguares, Ulengo not only announced his return with a brace of tries but made a big statement in his efforts to becoming a Springbok again.
But the 28-year-old is not thinking that far ahead and is keen for more game time to grow his confidence following a minor operation done by Swiss-based physician Prof Hakan Alfredson.
“They didn’t pick up that there was a vein growing in my knee from all the pain. He (Alfredson) fixed it up, he is a magician and he healed me, so now I’m back and hopefully I can improve on my performances. I had to have surgery and go through the normal rehab and I have been focussed on the prize ahead,” he said.
Having spent three quarters of a year out because of a persistent patella injury, Ulengo is solely focussed on helping his Super Rugby franchise return to the top and believes they can add a fourth title in the not-too-distant future.
It’s been eight years since the Bulls last won their third Super Rugby title but Ulengo is just as optimistic of their return to the top as he was when he spent those months on the sidelines.
“It’s been almost a decade that I have been out for, it feels like it. It’s good to be back on the field and enjoy myself again with the guys,” he said.
“Obviously it hasn’t been the campaign we wanted; good start but obviously things didn’t go our way. Hopefully we are building for a great future. I think towards next season or the season after, the Bulls are going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Ulengo admits that the journey back to fitness was not an easy one and over and above getting his hefty frame right medically, he faced a constant battle of the mind.
Even with the frustration of having to sit and watch a promising career succumb to the fragility of the human body and also see his place in the Springbok and Bulls teams go to other players, he credits being back on the field and firing on all cylinders to the support of his family and the Bulls coaches.
“It was a frustrating and challenging period for me. My faith in God, my family and support and the coaches here at the Bulls and backroom staff really carried me through. It was hard emotionally thinking that this career and goals I set for myself are never going to happen.”
Overcoming that tough personal journey has given Ulengo confidence, and after his and the Bulls' stellar performance against the Jaguares, they will walk into the lion’s den at Ellis Park on Saturday with no fear of their opposition.
Ulengo is likely to come up against a Springbok in Ruan Combrinck, Courtnal Skosan or Aphiwe Dyantyi but the former Springbok Sevens star is not fazed and has sent out a chilling reminder to his opposite number and the Lions as well.
“I’m a Springbok myself, I won’t put myself down. The more I play, the more confident I get. I think it is going to be a great game and the supporters who are going to be there are going to get their money’s worth.
It is going to be an awesome game and hopefully we will pull it through,” added Ulengo.