Cape Town - When Marco van Staden rejoined the Bulls from Leicester, it took him a while to get to his best form.
The Springbok openside flank left England under a cloud of concussion, and hardly featured for the Tigers during a short stint following the 2021 Rugby Championship.
Van Staden played in just eight games for the club, and left by mutual consent to continue his rehabilitation in South Africa.
Bulls coach Jake White was able to bring Van Staden back to Loftus Versfeld on a two-year contract after the No 6 had departed Pretoria at the end of the 2020/21 season.
Now the 27-year-old is regaining his old touch around the breakdowns, and putting in the big hits as he tries to push for a Bok recall ahead of the World Cup in France.
There is some serious competition among the loose forwards, though, with captain Siya Kolisi and Stormers star Deon Fourie the first in line at openside flank.
But ahead of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Lions at Loftus, Van Staden is just thrilled to be back on the pitch.
“I feel like I got back to where I should be. Still a lot of work to be done ... There are still a lot of parts of my game that I can improve on,” said Van Staden.
“It’s a game of inches, and if you are just a second too early, then your hands are on the ground and it’s a penalty. If you’re too late, then they clean you off the ball …
“You get a feeling for it as the game goes on. I felt that when I started playing again (for the Bulls), I didn’t quite have that accuracy.
“But the more you try it and practice it, then that perfect moment comes through (to get the turnover). The refs are watching us, so there isn’t a lot of room for mistakes. You have to be accurate, and cannot afford to give away penalties.
“But I’m glad and just happy to be playing again. I am enjoying my rugby, and if you enjoy rugby, it makes you play well. That’s my main goal – to enjoy every opportunity I get, and whatever happens from there, I’m happy with it.”
The immediate focus for Van Staden will be the Lions on Saturday, with the Bulls having lost their last match 23-19 to the Stormers two weeks ago.
The Pretoria side have won just two out of their last eight games in the URC and Champions Cup, and want their effort in training to be reflected on the scoreboard with a victory over the Johannesburg side.
“The best thing we did after the Stormers game was to take out what we can – we learn from the mistakes. But we had a lot of opportunities that we missed, so we have been focusing a lot on accuracy and finishing off,” Van Staden said.
“We get into the right places, but it’s just simple mistakes and we give the ball back. We have to start building momentum towards the end of the season.
“I expect the Lions to come out firing, with a lot of energy and tempo. But the only way you can beat that is to match it with energy and tempo, against them as well.
“Both the Lions and us are under pressure, with the last few games we had … We are both under pressure to perform and get wins, especially with the playoffs coming nearer.
“They will have a lot of tempo and energy, and try to give us a surprise.”