There have been times in this season’s Currie Cup campaign where JD Schickerling genuinely looks fearless.
The towering young Western Province lock has undoubtedly made his mark with his performances and will be a vital part of the Capetonians’ assault on the tournament crown in Saturday’s final against the Sharks in Durban.
Yet it’s important to put the 22-year-old’s physicality into perspective.
Just over three years ago, Schickerling broke his neck – in no less than two places.
The scary part about that is how the incident could’ve spooked him from ever playing at 100% intensity again.
It wasn’t a spectacular high tackle (for example) that saw him being rushed to hospital.
Schickerling was actually just doing his “job”.
Playing for Western Province’s Under-21 side, he shaped to jump and grab a kick-off.
But his props weren’t there to lift and keep him in the air for a few crucial seconds.
Instead, Schickerling landed on his feet but bowed his head in order to take on the oncoming defender, Irne Herbst.
Unfortunately, Herbst’s right shoulder whacked him slap bang on the head.
The impact was so great that Schickerling’s C5 and C6 vertebrae immediately cracked.
To make matters worse, Herbst’s lock partner, Marvin Orie, grabbed him in a headlock to bring him down as the neck suffered even further.
Orie, who played against Schickerling for the Lions in last weekend’s semifinal, was handed a one-match suspension.
It also explains why the two men still have some tense moments between each other on the field.
In what could be considered a miracle, doctors told him had his injury been 2mm closer to his spine, he would’ve been paralysed.
But it’s that convenient (or inconvenient depending on your view) fact that has led Schickerling to play the game as if nothing happened.
“The major thing for me was that I just started to focus on myself and my well-being. I’m just enjoying the game,” he said.
“It’s been really simple. I’ve just tried to improve in every area of my game.”
That is a bit of an understatement.
Schickerling has been a giant in this campaign.
He’s been superb as a line-out jumper, he’s made the most dominant tackles this season (missing only 8 of his 149 tackles) and has shown up well as a ball-carrier.
And it’s nothing more than sheer gratitude for a second chance that’s made him into this whirlwind of a player.
“I’m just really enjoying my rugby now. And that means I want to be physical.”