Lood de Jager’s Springbok career has been a saga of triumph and disappointment, but the 28-year-old still counts himself as being fortunate and accepts his many injury problems as just being part of his journey.
The East Rand product will play his 50th Test for South Africa against Argentina on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the sixth specialist lock to reach that milestone. De Jager made his debut off the bench on June 14, 2014 against Wales in Durban and has now played in two World Cups, his outstanding displays in the 2015 edition winning him the SA Player of the Year title.
But he has had more than his fair share of injuries, especially in the shoulder region. De Jager missed the start of the Rassie Erasmus reign in 2018 because he had torn his pectoral muscle in Super Rugby that May, but did make two appearances off the bench on the end-of-year tour of Great Britain.
He injured the other shoulder in the triumphant 2019 World Cup final, and then the same shoulder went in September 2020. He had just returned to the field for the Sale Sharks in April when he suffered a freak training accident that broke his fibula and tore his knee ligaments.
De Jager then did exceptionally well just to make the Springbok squad for the British and Irish Lions series, but of course was one of the players who came down with Covid.
But De Jager’s determination saw him return for the Springboks in the second Test, and his arrival in the second half certainly changed the fortunes of the team, especially in the lineouts.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of some real highs but some real lows too. I guess I’ve had a few more injuries than normal, but it’s just part of my journey and I must just adapt and come back stronger,” De Jager said this week.
“I’m not a naturally fit person so it’s quite hard to regain that Test match intensity. Training does not come close to game intensity and I had just come back from injury when I caught Covid.
“But if you look at the history of Springbok rugby, lock has always been one of the positions with the best players, so I have a massive responsibility to go out and perform and make the jersey proud.”
De Jager’s positivity brings thousands of lux of shining happiness to the Springbok squad and coach Jacques Nienaber had nothing but praise for the giant with the metal shoulders.
“I take my hat off to him for all the ups and downs he has been through – that shoulder injury in the World Cup and then an unfortunate leg injury,” said Nienaber.
“He is slowly getting back to his full match-fitness, he’s played around 200 minutes now and I am very happy for him. It’s fantastic when players reach milestone games, that can only be good for us.”