Johannesburg - Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo has had a tough time this season, but has praised the Swedish “magician” doctor who helped him bring his career back from the brink.
And now that he is slowly regaining his confidence on the field, the former Springbok Sevens player can only see good things ahead, according to the SuperSport.com.
Flash back to February this year for a frustrated Ulengo. He had undergone surgery on his knee, but the rehab wasn’t going as planned. No matter what local specialists had tried, the injury didn’t seem to be responding to treatment and Ulengo was getting more frustrated by the day.
It took a bold move by Bulls coach John Mitchell to dispatch Ulengo to Sweden to see renowned specialist Professor Hakan Alfredsson to see if there was not a way of finding an answer for the knee complaint that was threatening the Bulls wing’s career.
Alfredsson made a startling diagnosis missed by local specialists, that there was a vein growing behind the patella on Ulengo’s knee that was causing the pain and inflammation, and hey presto, a quick surgery later and the winger was on his way back to full fitness.
This all brought about the smiles on Saturday as the Bulls dispatched the Jaguares in their last Super Rugby game of the season at Loftus Versfeld. Ulengo, who was playing his second game back, scored twice and could have had a third had he not passed inside to Johnny Kotze.
The big wing was back, and now on Saturday where he is likely to face one of the Lions' Springbok wings, Ulengo is raring to go.
A big smile crossed his face when he spoke about the feeling of being back on the field, something he has clearly missed in the months of frustration.
“Ja, it's been almost a decade that I’ve been out for - at least it feels like it. It’s good to be back out on the field, to enjoy myself again with the guys. Obviously it hasn’t been the campaign that we wanted it to be. We had a good start but obviously things didn’t go our way. We’re building for a good future ahead, and next season or the season thereafter the Bulls are really going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Ulengo said.
But the wing spoke from the heart on his injury and the miracle cure he had undergone.
“Something in particular. They didn’t pick up that there is a vein growing under my knee in particular. It was growing under my patella and he fixed it up. He is a magician, he healed me and now I’m back hopefully to improve my performances.”
Most players with a knee injury find they’ve lost speed in the interim, but Ulengo says he doesn’t feel this has happened with him.
“Not as such, it's just a matter of time to get my confidence back and match fitness. In due time everything will fall into place and I will start playing the rugby that I know I can,” he explained.
“It was definitely a frustrating period for me, a challenging period. But I think the faith that I have in God definitely pulled me through, my family as well, the coaches here at the Bulls and the backroom staff as well. They really carried me through this whole journey. Obviously it was mental and it was hard emotionally as well, thinking that this career, the journey and the goals that I set for myself, probably never would happen. So it was a tough period for me.”
Ulengo is looking forward to facing the Lions this weekend and isn’t daunted by the prospect of their speed out wide.
“I’m a Springbok myself, so I wouldn’t put myself down. I think the more I play the more confident I will get. I think it will be a great game. The crowd and supporters are going to get their money’s worth. It’s going to be an awesome game and I’m looking forward to it.
“I started feeling it in the previous game already where I got a few touches on the ball, a few glimpses. Like I said the more play the more confident I will get and hopefully I will contribute to the team’s growth in general. Obviously it is a team sport but I just have to do my part.”
But while most players talk about the Springbok squad as their goal, Ulengo is looking simply to spend as much time on the field to regain his rhythm. Whatever happens afterwards are decisions that are not in his hands.
“Not as such, for me right now it is just to get my confidence back, to help the team, wherever we end up in the season. It is still a long season and for me it is just to play my best rugby and see what the future holds.”
And while it may be a bit much to expect him to be at full fitness this weekend, Ulengo has targeted time in this year’s Currie Cup as part of his road back to the top. Taking it one step at a time after coming so close to the edge is natural for him.
But when he discovers his scoring prowess again and roars back into form, if this past weekend was anything to go by, he will make the Bok selectors sit up and notice.
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