Giant Walt Steenkamp hoping to be the beating heart of the Bulls
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CAPE TOWN - Even a giant like Walt Steenkamp – all 2.03m and 121kg of him – gets scared sometimes.
And when it's something beyond your control, like an irregular heartbeat, the situation becomes almost overwhelming.
For the genial 25-year-old Bulls lock, who hails from Rustenburg in North West and made his name at the Cheetahs, contracting Covid-19 late last year resulted in his heart being affected – so much so that he had just 40% heart function when he had to go undergo a heart ablation procedure.
That entailed a process of scarring tissue in the heart to block abnormal electrical signals, and is used to restore a normal heart rhythm.
Steenkamp had developed a heart arrhythmia, where the organ was beating too fast.
“According to the doctor, I had only 40% heart function before the operation.
“Basically, my top heart chambers were beating faster than my bottom chambers, and my heart rhythm wasn't right. So, they just burned arteries around my heart and it sounds as if everything is right now, and that it won't suddenly come back quickly,” the second-rower said this week.
“You get a fright when you hear news like that.
“You shouldn't take things for granted, and then you hear … Luckily, they never said I would definitely have to stop playing rugby, so it was at the back of my head that I would come back some or other time.
“And unfortunately, I needed a second operation, but I can definitely feel the difference – I feel fitter, and I am happy to be back.
“I didn't play rugby for four or five months, and to come back into the team that we have so quickly, it's just great to be able to win again. I think everyone makes you feel so at home and stuff, it feels as if I wasn't ever away.”
Steenkamp has been in excellent form over the past few weeks, first coming off the bench against the Lions and then starting in the Stormers and Sharks matches.
He has carried the ball strongly, worked hard on defence and snaffled a few line-outs from the opposition as well.
His second-row partnership with Ruan Nortjé is growing with every match, and they will look to put the Lions line-out under pressure once more at Ellis Park on Saturday (3.30pm kick-off).
“It's nice if we (locks) also get the recognition for that, with the props. We have a nice culture at the moment,” Steenkamp said.
“As a pack of forwards, we work very hard during the week to steal those balls, so the work in the week pays off at the weekend.
“I think a lock's work will never change. Rugby's rules make it a bit more difficult to do what (locks) used to do in the old days. You can't just go into a ruck like you used to do. You have to be more careful, with tackles and everything.
“The ball-in-play is higher, so you have to be fitter and be able to do a bit more.”