Lood delivers some great news to the Boks
INTERVIEW: Lodewyk de Jager, the World Cup-winning Springbok lock, has given Sale Sharks and the Springboks a massive boost at a critical time.
He confirmed he will be fit for the Premiership Final, if the English club can defy the odds and defeat Exeter at Sandy Park in the semifinal on Saturday.
That semifinal task has been made even more daunting following the 19-20 loss to the reigning champions in the final regular-season fixture that saw flyhalf AJ MacGinty, hooker Armand van der Merwe and flank Cameron Neild suffering potentially serious injuries at the weekend.
De Jager sustained a broken leg and knee damage at the start of April in a training accident and currently has a metal plate in his leg – to join similar reconstruction materials in both his shoulders.
Having endured long rehabilitation comebacks after three shoulder operations, the 206-centimetre tall lock is on course to defy medical opinion by turning a 16-week recovery period into just 12 weeks.
That would mean being fit for the start of the week of the Premiership Final on June 26 and the Springboks’ three-Test series with the British and Irish Lions.
De Jager’s incredible commitment to try to help Sale’s title bid and the Springboks defeat the Lions saw him start his rehabilitation work the day after the surgery to repair knee ligament damage and insert that metal plate in the fibula just above the ankle of his left leg.
His remarkable recovery has required significant personal sacrifices by de Jager and his wife, who returned to South Africa with their two children – a two-year-old and one of nine months – to allow “Dad” to concentrate solely on rehabilitation.
De Jager hoped to bring his family back after regaining mobility, but it would mean his wife and children enduring quarantine in a hotel.
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De Jager, 28, who is living with fellow Sale lock Cobus Wiese, told RugbyPass: “My wife [Constance] and I had a discussion when I was injured and I said: ‘Listen, for the next couple of weeks I won’t be able to do much and help with the kids. I really need to put all my effort into the rehab if I am going to be ready for the Final and the B&I Lions series’.
“She is very supportive and understands the whole thing and they have been back in South Africa and then were in the Maldives quarantining before coming back and then that country went onto the Red List.
“I really miss my wife and the kids and they grow so quickly and on Facetime, you see that and my son is putting sentences together in English.
“My wife has been unbelievable travelling alone with two young kids and she gave up her own career as a clinical psychologist to support me.
“I cannot expect her to sit in a hotel room with two kids quarantining for 11 days and so they went back to South Africa from the Maldives and I haven’t seen them for two-and-a-half months.
“They are in Cape Town where a lot of my family are based and so I won’t see them until I go back for the Lions series and what is great is that SA Rugby have really organised things well and the players’ families will be with us the whole time for the Lions series.”
Despite being a key figure in the Springbok pack that won the World Cup, De Jager was so nervous on the day that the squad – to take on the B&I Lions – was named, he went shopping to take his mind off the official announcement in South Africa.
“I cannot watch the announcement live except the first time I was named in 2004 and since then I can’t and so I went to Tesco to do some shopping this time,” he explained.
“I checked my phone for messages from my family and found out that I was in the squad.
“I told the Springbok management that I would do everything I could to be ready and they said they wanted me around, but I had to be ready to play.
“The big thing is to get two or three games before the Lions because you want to perform, not just be part of the series, to make sure I am match fit.
“It is always amazing to be selected by the Springboks, it is the biggest honour and I never take it for granted and still get nervous every time a squad is named.
“My previous injuries and the rehab I did has helped me massively this time but the difference is that we are in a race against the clock and everything is being condensed.
“I have worked harder than I’ve ever done to accelerate the process with the initial prognosis 16 weeks and we are pushing it for 12.
“The most crucial thing is that normally they tell you to rest the leg for two weeks after surgery and I started the day after trying to keep the muscle mass in my leg, because you can lose a lot.
“That is where our head of physiotherapy did an amazing job by maintaining muscle mass without compromising my injury and that was really important.
“We have exceptional S&C and medical staff at the club but at the end of the day if you don’t put in the work you won’t get the results.
“Those guys are with you all the time but they cannot do the rehab work.
“I do as much as I can every day and see how the leg reacts and luckily we have not had any setbacks and so we are still pushing for the Premiership final and I want to be part of that match.
“I have enjoyed working with Alex [Sanderson], he is an unbelievable coach and one of a kind – one of the best I have ever worked with. I don’t want to disappoint the guy and we have a real brotherhood here with everyone caring for each other and that goes a long way
“It is nice to have so many Saffas around and you miss home when you don’t see your family and friends for quite a while. For the wives it’s massive to have support and if your family is not happy then it can affect the way you play and they all connect with each other and are friends. There is a really big support system.”
De Jager is one of three Springbok locks who helped win the World Cup who have been injured leading into the B&I Lions series – with Eben Etzebeth suffering a hand injury and Rudolph Snyman first rupturing his knee and then last week suffering burns from a firepit accident.
De Jager has been in contact with Snyman and added: “I really feel sorry for RG and devastated for him because I know how hard he has worked to get back. I get emotional about it and hopefully we are all going to be back together.”
By Chris Jones, RugbyPass