Dobson: Schickerling has a remarkable mindset

In a snippet from the latest edition of SA Rugby magazine, John Dobson opens up on JD Schickerling’s ‘remarkable’ recovery from a neck injury he suffered in 2014.

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Rewinding to August 2014, the then 19-year-old Schickerling was playing for the Western Province U21 team against the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.

Only minutes into the match, he went up in the air to collect a kick-off but, after coming straight down to ground, he tucked his head in. As he did so, he was met by the Bulls’ second-row combination, who put him in a head lock and pulled him to ground, causing two vertebrae in his neck to break.

After being rushed to hospital, Schickerling was told he would need an emergency operation. While the good news was that he would be able to walk, the doctor added that he had come within 2mm from paralysis.

While Schickerling was advised not to play rugby again, he was given the option of a second operation to insert a plate in his neck which would allow him to continue his sporting career. He did not hesitate in agreeing to it.

What followed was a 16-month recovery period, during which Schickerling essentially had to start from scratch.

Stormers coach John Dobson, who in 2014 was coaching the Western Province U21 side, said Schickerling was determined to get back on to the field.

‘If I’d had that injury, I would never have even thought about going back to play rugby again,’ Dobson tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘Not in his position and not the way rugby is these days. That felt quite scary in many ways, but I say that respectfully. He was absolutely determined to get back on to the field. I thought, jeepers, if I had come that close to paralysis or death, as those kinds of injuries can be, I would not be playing rugby again.

‘We went to see him and his family in Villiersdorp during his recovery. From the start, there was just no doubt in his mind that he was going to get back on the field.

‘What is, to my mind, the biggest thing, is that if you run on to the field, knowing you have a problem with your neck, surely you must be petrified. It is something I talked to him this year about. He said when he runs on the field, he just doesn’t think about it. That’s a special skill set. It is remarkable.’

*This full version of this feature first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack