Hooker Scarra Ntubeni is ready to make his presence felt out on the pitch for the DHL Stormers, having recently made his comeback from injury.
It has been a difficult time for the popular forward, who made his much-anticipated return on 27 January from a long-term Achilles injury.
Ntubeni was thrown straight into the thick of things after hooker JJ Kotze went down early in the match against Ulster in Belfast, and he is excited to play his first match of the 2022/23 season on South African soil this week at Loftus Versfeld.
“I wasn’t expecting to come on that early against Ulster but luckily we had Vennas [Andre-Hugo Venter] on the bench,” said Ntubeni, who turns 32 on Saturday.
“I needed to be thrown into the deep end because the lungs were going to struggle anyway so I thought I might as well just do it. It was pretty awesome to be back on the field.
“For me, at the moment, it’s about getting back into the team because I’ve been out for about 10 months. I really want to get back to my form where I was playing last season.”
Despite his injury battles, Ntubeni’s positivity and support of the DHL Stormers is the stuff of legend, cheering the defending Vodacom URC winners on with The Faithful at the DHL Stadium.
“Watching the guys enter the quarte-finals and semis … you compete for trophies, and to not be in the mix was a bit emotional for me,” he said.
“But I just told myself that the team is bigger than me and that I’m part of something special, and these are my boys and I know how hard they worked to be where they are.”
As one of the seasoned campaigners, Ntubeni gave his thoughts on the next generation of DHL Stormers hookers nipping at his heels, as well as the positional battle between him and fellow Springbok Joseph Dweba.
“The younger hookers have also been thrown into the deep end. Last season I was playing quite a lot and they were rotating and then I got injured early and by the end of the season they had to play.
“They’re doing very well. They’re developing and maturing, and then with Joseph coming in it also helps.
“I’m not there yet but I really want to work and compete with Joey. We get along and really push each other, especially at scrum time, and we bounce ideas off each other. It sounds like a cliche but it’s healthy competition that helps motivate me.”
In many ways, this season is the end of an era for the esteemed DHL Stormers front row of Ntubeni, Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, with the latter set to join Ulster after the 2022/23 campaign.
“We’ll always have a special bond and want what’s best for each other,” Ntubeni said. “We obviously want to finish on a high for the ginger – I’m going to miss that guy, it’s been a lekker journey with him.”
And what of the Highveld showdown against the Vodacom Bulls? He added: “When you play the Vodacom Bulls you don’t need much motivation, it’s always massive.
“I’m excited with a bit of nerves, because it’s been a while for me, but once the whistle goes I’ll be fine, I just need to make that first hit and first carry.
“I just feel fortunate to get another opportunity to get back on the park.”