It was almost three seasons to the day, but nothing seemed to have changed when Akona Ndungane took to the field for the Vodacom Bulls against the Chiefs on Saturday.
His last appearance in the same jersey (ok, not quite the same jersey!) was against the same side in 2009, when the Bulls crushed the New Zealand contenders 61-17 in the final of the Super 14.
Ndungane scored on that day, but two serious leg breaks months later in domestic competitions not only denied the 11 test Springbok to play any rugby at all, it created serious doubts on his ability to play at an international level again.
A short stint as a replacement against the Reds paved the way for an unexpected starting berth against the Chiefs on short notice, but Ndungane showed that the magic was still there.
He chased high balls with gusto, showing immense bravery under the high ball and twice created turnovers that resulted in tries for his side.
"It is almost unbelievable to see how well he has shaped up after being out so long. He worked very, very hard to get back to this level and I was very happy that he could show everyone he is still capable to play at this level," a happy coach Frans Ludeke said afterwards.
Bulls fans can only say – welcome back Akona!
Physical: 1.83 m & 90kg
DOB: 20 February 1981, St. Mary's, Transkei
School: Hudson Park.
Springbok number: 774
Test debut: 15 July 2006 v Australia in Brisbane
Total matches: 11 test, two touring matches.
Points: 5 (1 try).
Vodacom Bulls: since 2005
Vodacom Blue Bulls: since 2005
Border Bulldogs: 2004
Mighty Elephants: 2002/03