Vodacom Western Province’s kicking game played a big part in their early season successes in the Absa Currie Cup, and Conrad Jantjes played a big part in that. The fullback’s safety under the high ball meant there was no weakness at the back that the opposition could expose, and when they did kick onto Jantjes, they invariably found that the ball sailed back at them with some interest.
In fact, the 30-year-old’s form has been so good that it is hard to think of him now as the player who suffered such a nightmare injury during last year’s Vodacom Super 14. There have been some horrible rugby injuries over the years, but Jantjes’ broken leg will be remembered with shivers of discomfort by those who were there, so it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for the player.
'It’s a very painful memory in every possible way, and it was definitely the scariest night of my life,' recalls Jantjes.
'Coming from Johannesburg obviously I am not easily scared,' he laughs, 'but the image of my leg facing the other way did haunt me for a long time afterwards and I woke up on several occasions in the middle of the night with horrible memories of the sound of bone snapping.'
Clearly coming back from an injury like that is not easy, and Jantjes admits that it was a long and complicated process for him.
'It did take a while for me to get over it, and I am not just talking about the physical aspect. The psychological hurdle that I had to overcome was massive, and I did have to turn to psychological help to ease the process. Fortunately there is a bit of a support group going among sportsmen who have suffered similar injuries. Dillon Sheppard of Mamelodi Sundowns suffered a similar break a couple of years ago and more recently so did Eduardo of Arsenal. We were in contact with one another and it was a good way of informing yourself of what to expect and what was necessary to overcome both the physical and psychological challenges.
'After the injury I gave myself eight months off. I took a complete break from the game and didn't even did any gym work in that time. There was no point to it. I knew that once I was able to, I would be able to push myself hard in the gym and from my experience of prior injuries I knew I would need an intense six weeks or so to get back.
'Obviously my first contact and my first game back was a big step, and I may have been a bit hesitant in that first game. But once you have taken contact a couple of times and you have stood up to it your confidence comes back. Now it is just a case of me having to get endurance back into my legs. That is not something you can train for. You just have to play.
'My situation is different from someone like Nick Koster, who suffered an ACL tear. A bone break is not as complicated as a ligament tear and you don’t have a situation where one leg is weaker than another or you have to get your power back. There is nothing you can train for, it is just a case of me getting endurance back into my leg. I find my legs get tired quite quickly.'
Jantjes has been happy with his form since returning, but reckons it will take about three months for him to be completely comfortable. However, he is prepared to be patient, and right now he has no lofty rugby goals – he just wants to play again.
'I will be honest with you, I hardly even watched any rugby during my year away. My time away afforded me the chance to do other things I would not normally be able to do, like go away for a weekend, and when I did watch bits of the games, like in this year’s Super 14, I saw some of the big hits put in and ended up asking myself whether my leg would be able to take it.
'I wouldn’t say I was particularly frustrated or anything; I realised I had to live with the situation. But when the British & Irish Lions arrived, I do remember it sinking in that I was missing out on something big. Make no mistake, there are times when you are in rehab when it is a very lonely and dark place, and it can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride emotionally.
'At the moment it's just about me wanting to play, and to improve from one game to the next. I am enjoying playing Absa Currie Cup rugby and really want Vodacom WP to do well. During my time away I added up all the time I have been away with injury during my career, and figured out that in terms of my rugby, I am more like 27 years old than 30. You could say I am light on racing. So I do have plenty of time left in the game.'
Jantjes' recuperation from the injury is still far from over. At the end of the season he has to have two pins taken out of his leg and after that he will go into another six weeks of rehab.
'But I will be ready for next year's Vodacom Super 15, that is the next big step for me,' he says.