From scrum cap to Bok cap
It was on the Bulls' Australasian tour against the Chiefs in Hamilton where Ismaiel was reminded why he isn’t a loose forward and must stick to his position on the wing.
“It is not really so much the high balls, my issue was that I like to get stuck in at the rucks trying to steal some ball and that’s where the forwards like targeting me and obviously I’m not a loose forward,” laughed Ismaiel.
“It (the scrum cap) is precautionary. I took a knock or two to the head earlier in the season so it is just to protect myself. Hopefully it will come off soon but we’ll see how it goes.”
It doesn’t really matter whether Ismaiel is wearing the cap or not because he is getting back to the form that put him in Springbok reckoning before suffering a knee injury that ruined his chances of becoming an international at the end of last year.
The 24-year-old is hopeful his name will be mentioned in Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’s first squad on Saturday evening, but he also knows not to raise his expectations after spending the better part of this season injured.
A former Tygerberg High School pupil, Ismaiel is aware of the heroics performed in his absence by other wings like Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi, Raymond Rhule, Makazole Mapimpi and even his own teammates in Divan Rossouw and Johnny Kotze that will certainly push him down the pecking order.
“Injuries are part of the game, you never wish to get injured," he said. "It is very difficult to keep your focus and keep your hopes up during injury and that rehabilitation. Obviously you work hard to try get back in there.
"We all want to do well but obviously the competition from the other wings makes it good and that you have earned your place when you get that call-up eventually. I think the competition brings out the best out of all of us. As they say, 'rugby is a cruel game, sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t'.”
As cruel as the game has been in denying Ismaiel a deserved opportunity to play for the Springboks, his recent return to the field is yet another chance for him and his Bulls teammates to prove their worth when they face the Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday afternoon.
Ismaiel's mission won’t be to prove Erasmus wrong or right, it will be to help his side get back on track after their inept performance in Buenos Aires that saw them go down 54-24 to the Jaguares last weekend.
“Obviously the hope is there (to be a Bok), it is always there. I just stick to what I do and always do. We are very process-orientated here at the Bulls so that is what I do when I get on the field and hopefully I will be in there,” said Ismaiel.
While the Brumbies will come with their own ideas of further upsetting the Bulls' ambitions of remaining relevant in the South African conference, Ismaiel believes that putting aside their Springbok aspirations and chasing other teams in the conference is not as important as playing the way they have when they have put sides away at Loftus.
“I wouldn’t say it weighs on our minds but obviously we chase our own standards. We are not happy with how we played over the weekend. We just have to stick to what we’ve been doing and focus on ourselves; there is nothing about the rest of the teams that will sort itself out.
"We need to do the best that we can to put ourselves in a position to get above them,” Ismaiel said.