For the first time – after 10 attempts in the past five years – the Cheetahs have won a Super Rugby game on Australian soil. The X factor in the thrashing of the Waratahs was the return of fetcher Heinrich Brüssow (24) after a year-long injury lay-off.
He played like a man who was glad to be back. In March 2010 Heinrich crumpled to the ground clutching his left knee in a game against the Hurricanes. A long scar down the inside of his left leg serves as a reminder of the terrible year that followed.
An operation was performed to repair a ligament in his knee but a smaller scar on his knee tells the tale of what happened next – he became active too soon and a second operation was performed to repair his injured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the ligament that connects the bones of the knee joint.
“I know injuries are part of rugby but rehab was boring so it feels good to be playing again,” he says.
We visited Heinrich at his Bloemfontein home before he’d rejoined his teammates earlier this month. The last time we spoke to Heinrich was in November 2008 and he’d just made the Springbok squad. He seemed uncertain of himself; now he’s at ease with the attention he’s receiving.
Dr Johan Kruger, who operated on the young star, isn’t concerned that Heinrich will have any long-term problems from the operation. His rehabilitation has been well managed – four months of rest and light activity then two months in the gym for more physical exertion.
“My only concern was his mind. A good mind-body balance is important. Fortunately he continued his studies and kept his mind active,” Dr Kruger says.
Heinrich, who’s studying for a degree in business administration at the University of the Free State, agrees it helped to have something to keep his mind busy.
But playing still holds a certain risk. An injury within the first year of the operation would undo the reconstruction work. Heinrich is aware of this and as much as he hated not being part of the team he realises how important the slow, steady work is for his career.
And he has a goal. “I want to be playing rugby when the next World Cup [in 2015] comes around so my knee has to hold out till then.”
Read more about Heinrich in YOU, 31 March 2011.