Lood de Jager opens up on rollercoaster journey ahead of South Africa milestone

The Springboks have recalled a swathe of world-class stars for Saturday’s second Test against Argentina, but few among Jacques Nienaber’s XV will be more pleased to play than Lood de Jager.

South Africa got their Rugby Championship campaign underway with a 32-12 win over the Pumas last weekend, De Jager’s first Test start since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final win over England.

The Sale Sharks lock is one of only four players retained in the team for Saturday’s sequel in Port Elizabeth, where he’ll earn his 50th cap as a Springbok.

It’s a major turn of events given only last year the player feared a recurring shoulder injury might end his career, having also been stricken down by the coronavirus.

But De Jager is a firm believer that “everything happens for a reason,” accepting those hurdles were all a necessary part of his route back to the top.

"Obviously I have had a few more injuries than the normal guy,” he told reporters after being named in a much-changed South Africa XV to host Argentina.

“But that is just part of my journey. You suffer those setbacks and then you come back stronger. Every injury, as bad and disappointing as it is, is just part of your journey and you must see it like that."

De Jager played only a minimal role in the nation’s 32-12 World Cup final victory in Japan, where he was forced off after suffering a shoulder injury in the 21st minute.

The 28-year-old received surgery for the dislocated shoulder and joined Premiership club Sale following the tournament, then suffered a similar injury less than a year later to send him back to the drawing board.

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South Africa had their star second row back in contention for the recent series win over the British and Irish Lions, but De Jager detailed how a bout of Covid-19 didn’t exactly aid his comeback efforts.

"Match fitness is hard to get when you are not a naturally fit guy. I am not the best in training, and nothing comes close to match intensity and what you need in a game," he added.

"None of us really had the preparation ahead of the Lions series we would have liked. I also got COVID. With no pre-season to get properly up to speed it is difficult to get match fit.”

Centre Damian de Allende won his 50th South Africa cap in the series decider against the Lions, with De Jager set to swiftly follow his compatriot into the half-century club.

He’ll become the 10th member of the current Springboks squad to hit that milestone, one of the happier memories in what’s been a topsy-turvy international career.

South Africa are technically titleholders in the Rugby Championship considering they didn’t compete in last year’s southern-hemisphere contest, not to mention the reigning world champions.

But De Jager also played in the shock loss to Japan en route to their World Cup triumph two years ago, as well as being a substitute in their dreaded 57-0 loss to New Zealand in 2017.

The philosophical lock looked back on those mixed international fortunes and concluded: ”I have been fortunate to experience some real highs of Springbok rugby but unfortunately there have been some real lows that I have been part of too. But I believe everything happens for a reason.”

Springbok team to face Argentina

(Backs) Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach; (Forwards) Jasper Wiese, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi, Lood de Jager, Marvin Orie, Thomas du Toit, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane

Reps: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Nicolaas van Rensburg, Kwagga Smith, Dan du Preez, Jaden Hendrikse, Damian Willemse

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