Cornal Hendricks will play his first XVs rugby match as a professional since 2015 on Saturday, having been named to start for the Bulls in a Super Rugby preseason match against the Lions in Pretoria on Saturday.
Hendricks, a former Cheetahs and Springboks winger, retired in 2015, on medical advice, after he discovered that he had a heart defect. He was due at the time to take up a contract with the Cape Town-based Stormers. He had a trial with Toulon, in 2016, but the French Top 14 club did not sign him, and he has since featured only in “a number of invitational tournaments around the world” after the Southern Kings, in 2017, reported also opted not to offer him a contract.
Hendricks joined the Bulls in November last year, after being cleared to play again by “two of the top specialists in the world”.
He said in a statement when joining the Bulls: “As with any rugby player that plays this beautiful game, I fully understand the risks that go with it as I enter into this contract with the Blue Bulls Company. I accept such risks.”
Springboks Schalk Brits and Duane Vermeulen have joined the Bulls after stints at clubs in Europe, adding considerable experience to an already generous tally of internationals in the squad.
The new jerseys, inspired by Marvel’s Spider-Man, Thor, Black Panther and Captain America, will debut in public at the Super Hero Sunday preseason double-header at Cape Town Stadium on February 3.
Super Rugby is back in just a month, and this season has the ingredients to be the best of the past few years – a prospect that could not be more timely given the general dissatisfaction that has surrounded the once-mighty southern hemisphere tournament.
Hendricks said also that he was keen to get back on the field.
“I have played in a number of invitational tournaments around the world in the last two years, so I am keen to become part of a team structure and squad again, especially one known for their good culture and structure,” he said in the Bulls statement.
“The Bulls are definitely a team in an upward curve, so it is pretty exciting joining them.”
Hendricks is not the only Bulls newcomer set to start against the Lions in South Africa’s first Super Rugby preseason match of the year.
Former South Africa sevens star Rosko Specman will start on the opposite wing, having concluded his duties with the Blitzboks in December.
Specman played 45 matches for South African Currie Cup side the Pumas between 2013 and 2015, and he had a stint at the Cheetahs in 2017.
“I went to sevens in 2014 to improve my skills and I had a goal for the next four seasons,” Specman told Netwerk24 recently.
“I achieved it and want to start a new chapter at the Bulls. I know I can make an impact in both formats and it is exciting times for me.”
Specman and Hendricks will compete with Travis Ismaiel, Duncan Matthews, Jade Stighling and Divan Rossouw for a place in the Bulls’ starting side in Super Rugby.
Marco Jansen van Vuren and former Junior Springbok Muller Uys are other newcomers in the Bulls’ starting side to face the Lions.
Jansen van Vuren played for the Lions last year before a short stint with the SA Rugby Sevens Academy, while Uys joined from Western Province, for whom he played age-group rugby last year.
“It is a long season, with no June window to interrupt the proceedings, so it will be important to have all available players fit and ready when needed,” Bulls coach Pote Human said of his first team selection since being appointed.
“A number of the guys starting this weekend will have the opportunity to show why they should be in the squad. We are all eager to see how the new guys do, but also to get the season going.”
Sylvian Mahuza, meanwhile, will captain a young Lions side.
The full-back, with 31 Super Rugby caps, is the most experienced player in the Lions squad that will travel to Pretoria.
Bulls: Earll Dowrie, Cornal Hendricks, Franco Naude, JT Jackson, Rosko Specman, Manie Libbok, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Muller Uys, Thembelani Bholi, Ruan Steenkamp. Eli Snyman, Ruan Nortje, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Corniel Els, Simphiwe Matanzima Replacements: Johan Grobbelaar, Matthys Basson, Conrad van Vuuren, Tim Agaba, Nic de Jager, Ivan van Zyl, Tinus de Beer, Jay-Cee Nel, Jade Stighling, Divan Rossouw.
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Lions: Sylvian Mahuza, Madosh Tambwe, Manuel Rass, Tyrone Green, Wandisile Simelane, Gianni Lombard, Morne van der Berg, Darrien-Lane Landsberg, Vincent Tshituka, M.J. Pelser, Rhyno Herbst, Ruan Vermaak, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Jan-Henning Champher, Nathan McBeth Replacements: Pieter Jansen, Danie Minnie, Frans van Wyk, P.J. Steenkamp, Roelof Smith, James Venter, Jo-Hanko de Villiers, Dian Schoonees, Bradley Thain, Eddie Fouche, Louritz van der Schyff, Jan-Louis la Grange, Stean Pienaar, Jeanluc Cilliers.