When JD Schickerling makes his Test debut on the Springboks’ current tour to Britain and France‚ it will complete one of the most remarkable comeback stories in rugby.
Four years ago Schickerling lay in a Pretoria hospital bed‚ unsure if he would walk again‚ let alone play rugby.
The prospects of a promising rugby career‚ and more importantly‚ a normal life were bleak.
In the hours after he was stretchered from the Loftus Versfeld pitch after sustaining a broken neck playing for Western Province U21s against the Blue Bulls‚ everything was in the balance.
The injury was the result of a dangerous tackle from opposite number Marvin Orie who had grabbed Schickerling around the neck while Irne Herbst‚ the Blue Bulls other second rower also climbed in to the tackle.
Orie was cited after the game and received a one-week suspension‚ but it was accepted that the incident was not intentional.
“Irne and Marvin both visited me‚” Schickerling said several weeks after the incident.
“They said sorry for what happened. I told them it’s okay and that this is all part of the game.
“At the end of the day‚ it could have happened to anyone! I’m just happy that I’m okay. My health is all that matters to me now.”
Doctors said that he was two millimetres from being paralysed. But they also asked if he would like to play rugby again because science and operating techniques could make it happen.
Schickerling would’ve been forgiven if he decided that coming away with the ability to function normally was enough.
It’s testament to his courage and competitiveness that he chose to take the second operation to insert a plate in his neck that would allow him the chance to play again.
Fast forward four years and Schickerling‚ 23‚ was one of five locks named in the Bok touring squad for Tests against England‚ France‚ Scotland and Wales on Saturday.
And in a strange twist of fate‚ Schickerling has replaced Orie in the Bok squad – the latter having made his Bok debut against Wales in Washington earlier this year.
Schickerling has earned his call-up after consistent performances in both the early stages of Super Rugby and throughout the Currie Cup in 2018 and is likely to have his first taste of Test rugby against England this weekend.
Insiders have suggested that he will be on the bench at Twickenham‚ with Gloucester’s Franco Mostert unable to play because the match falls outside the official Test window.
Eben Etzebeth and RG Snyman could start while Lood de Jager might need some more time after a long injury lay-off to come back into the set-up.
There is also some concern over Snyman’s fitness.
Schickerling spent 16 months in rehab and made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers in 2016 in a first round clash against the Bulls.
As luck would have it‚ his first touch after coming off the bench‚ saw him clattered head high by Bulls lock Grant Hattingh. There was an element of horrendous déjà vu as Schickerling stayed down.
To everyone’s relief he slowly got up and there was a collective sigh around Newlands‚ but mostly from Schickerling’s mother Cornelia.
“My mom was very scared when I started taking contact again‚” Schickerling said.
“Any mother would be like that. “When I was hit high against the Bulls‚ she told me that she was very frightened and angry and that she was probably going to stay away from watching my games live. “That wasn’t a good moment for her.”
Perhaps Cornelia will have a better moment when her son becomes a Springbok on this tour‚ from wherever she is watching.