Cape Town – For Cornal Hendricks, the Carling Champions Match is a chance to show the national coaches that he’s still got it.
Hendricks will start in the Carling team – made up of Currie Cup talent – against Italy ‘A’ at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
The 30-man squad, coached by Currie Cup-winning Pumas mentor Jimmy Stonehouse, features a blend of young talent, Springbok and Blitzboks experience and seasoned Currie Cup campaigners.
The Carling Champions Team, as voted for by fans, will take place for the second year. Stonehouse, who won the title after his side defeated Griquas in the historic final, will be in charge of the management team made up of his provincial assistants.
The 34-year-old Hendricks has been one of the stand-out performers for the Bulls over the last couple of seasons, but he is yet to get the nod for the Bok squad again.
It has been over six years since he was forced into early retirement due to a rare heart condition, but he has since made his way back to the game, and he has done so in stunning style.
Since being signed by the Bulls, the former Bok wing, who made a seamless transition back into the midfield with superb running lines, distribution and pace to boot.
Speaking after the Captain’s Run at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the in-form centre spoke about what makes the Carling Champions Match special.
“One of the most exciting things for me is the fact that you have players from different unions,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity for some players to show the national coaches what they’ve still got.
“Also, I’m looking forward to making new friends and experiencing the place, the last time I was here was in 2014 when I played for the Springboks against Scotland.
“This is a chance to play against international opposition again. It’s a chance to prove myself and show that I can still compete at a high level. I’m just looking forward to being myself again and being a servant, like with the Bulls. You want to make the players around you look good, too.
“This is Barbarian rugby. If you make a mistake, the coaches won’t get grey hairs because we’re here to express ourselves. This is where we play like we did when we were kids. We can throw the ball around.”
On the Bulls’ season, which saw them face the Stormers in the first-ever URC grand final at Cape Town Stadium, Hendricks added: “We started slowly. At one stage we were 15th on the log. It was absolutely amazing playing in the final.
“The URC was a good challenge playing against so many international players. I have to give credit to the entire Bulls staff; they gave us the tools to play how we want and how we could.”
The Carling Champions Match kicks off on Saturday at 7.45pm.
Carling Champions team: 15 Clayton Blommetjies (Cheetahs), 14 Daniel Kasende (Cheetahs), 13 David Brits (Cheetahs), 12 Cornal Hendricks (Bulls), 11 Angelo Davids (WP), 10 Siya Masuku (Cheetahs), 9 Keagan Johannes (Bulls), 8 Mihlali Mosi (Cheetahs), 7 Sibusiso Sangweni (Lions), 6 Nama Xaba (WP), 5 Janko Swanepoel (Bulls), 4 Victor Sekekete (Cheetahs), 3 Robert Hunt (Bulls), 2 Marnus van der Merwe (Cheetahs), 1 Simphiwe Matanzima (Bulls).
Replacements: 16 Dan Jooste (Sharks), 17 Dewald Maritz (Pumas), 18 Kwenzo Blose (WP), 19 Shane Kirkwood (Pumas), 20 Willie Engelbrecht (Pumas), 21 Embrose Papier (Bulls), 22 Tristan Leyds (WP), 23 Devon Williams (Pumas).
Additional players: Eduan Swart (Pumas), Keke Morabe (WP), Andries Fouche (Pumas), Sanele Nohamba (Lions), Theo Boshoff (Griquas), Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs), Alwayno Visagie (Pumas).