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Jean’s real race begins

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Jean de Villiers beat the odds to recover from a ‘car-crash’ knee injury, but is still in a race to regain his previous form in the lead-up to the World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports from SARugbyMAG.co.za

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On Saturday, Heyneke Meyer named an extended Springbok squad for the upcoming internationals against the World XV, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. Of the 49 players, 13 are injured or recovering from injury. It’s hoped that many if not all of these players will be fit to play some part in the Rugby Championship.

De Villiers’s own rehabilitation has gone better than anybody expected. In a Test against Wales in Cardiff last November, De Villiers sustained what one specialist later described as a ‘car-crash’ injury. Six knee operations and seven months of intense rehabilitation later, and De Villiers is set to make a miraculous return to action.

However, the struggle is far from over. De Villiers needs game time in the lead-up to the World Cup. He hasn’t played a competitive game of rugby in seven months. Getting his match fitness and sharpness up to the required level is now a priority. There is still some way to go before he is absolutely ready for the global tournament this September.

‘If you look at everything, I shouldn’t be ready in time,’ the Bok captain told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘Take everything into consideration: the severity of the injury, my age [34], the time left before the World Cup … If you consider all of that, the odds are against me being ready.

‘That said, I’m a very positive person. Things have been going well over the past few months. My reaction time is up, and my speed is getting closer to where it was before the injury. Now it’s a matter of getting back onto the field and seeing how my body responds.

‘The way I see it, I still need to prove that I’m good enough to go to the World Cup,’ De Villiers continues. ‘There are no guarantees. If I come back, and it turns out that I’m not good enough, then I will take a step back. I don’t want to go to the World Cup if I’m not good enough. That said, I believe I can get there; back to a level where I’m making positive contributions to the team once more.’

It’s hoped that De Villiers will feature against the World XV at Newlands on 11 July. The veteran of 106 Tests has confirmed that the comeback will be gradual. Game time is crucial at this point, but De Villiers and the Bok medical team are equally wary of rushing his return.

‘You know, you have this thing in your head, you want to come back, score three tries, have an unbelievable game. But it won’t work like that,’ he said.

‘We’re probably looking at 20 minutes off the bench in my first game, then a full half off the bench in my second. Hopefully by the third match, I will be ready to start. And then in the fourth, maybe I can go the full 80.

‘What encourages me is that for about 90% of my career I played the full 80 minutes. The ability to go the distance is there, somewhere in the muscles and the body.’

The announcement of that preliminary Bok squad should provide De Villiers with further motivation to recapture the form of old. Two more veteran centres in Jaque Fourie and Frans Steyn were included in that squad, and so the competition for starting positions in midfield will be fierce.

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