One of the hardest parts of long-term injury is the sheer boredom of rehabilitation and not being able to be part of the action on the field, but that is the current reality of Springbok lock Lood de Jager, who tore his pectoral muscle during Super Rugby in May and had to have surgery.
De Jager will only be able to return to training in November, by which time the Springboks will already be on their end-of-year European tour, so the 25-year-old’s year is over, at least as far as playing is concerned.
But De Jager is putting the time off to good use and is helping out with the coaching of the Blue Bulls Currie Cup team, and, judging by his demeanour on the side of the field for training sessions and matches, it is obviously something he really enjoys.
“It started with me helping a bit with the lineouts. With myself, RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins not there, the young guys are getting a chance to play and I just want to help out where I can to try and make them better players. I’m assisting wherever I can have input and I’m really enjoying it.
“Coaching is something that’s a big passion of mine and it’s something I would like to pursue after playing rugby. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in coaching to this extent, to be at every training session, being at the game every weekend on the sidelines and doing the video analysis for lineout defence. It keeps me busy!” De Jager told The Citizen on Wednesday.
While De Jager’s meteoric rise, being chosen for the Springboks in just his second year of Super Rugby in 2014 and then being named South Africa’s Player of the Year in 2015, marks him out as one of the country’s great talents, his body is bearing the scars of 36 Tests and over 100 first-class games in five years. The former Free State Cheetahs star is hopeful that this injury-enforced break will yield benefits down the line, especially in a World Cup year in 2019.
“I haven’t been able to have a pre-season for such a long time, since 2013, so it’s going to be good for the body to be able to spend time on my conditioning before the next season starts, and hopefully I will go into 2019 Super Rugby strong and robust,” De Jager said.
While he does not yet have any children of his own, the gentle giant has a soft spot for kids and the break has also allowed De Jager to help out with Vodacom’s Tries for Smiles fundraising initiative for the Smile Foundation, which helps children with facial abnormalities to receive free corrective surgery.
“There are so many kids in need across South Africa, so it’s great to be able to make a difference. The reason we play is to be part of something bigger,” De Jager said at Esperanza Primary School in Newlands, where he and Bulls prop Lizo Gqoboka gave a surprise celebratory visit to Adriaan le Roux, one of the more than 2600 children who have literally had the smile put back on their faces by the initiative.