Schickerling arrives at career crossroad

It’s no surprise that WP lock JD Schickerling is in high demand, but it will be interesting to see how his national ambitions factor into the reckoning, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Schickerling’s rugby story is defined by guts and gumption, and a fearless refusal to give up on the game.

Despite suffering a serious neck injury while playing for the Western Province U21 team against the Blue Bulls in 2014, he remained resolute in the conviction that his career would not be over before it had even really begun.

After undergoing a second operation to insert a plate in his neck which would allow him to continue his sporting career, Schickerling spent over a year in recovery mode.

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Fast forward to 2021, and Schickerling has established himself as one of the most highly rated young locks in South African rugby, but his career has now reached a crossroads of sorts.

It’s well known that the 25-year-old has received a highly attractive offer from a club in Japan – while other rumours have suggested there are interested suitors from Europe as well.

Yet, it’s the Japanese offer that seems to slip more into the category of ‘too good to refuse’, although at a time when a British & Irish Lions series looms, there remains the question of what would be the best career move for Schickerling to remain in the hunt for Springbok honours.

It’s an interesting conundrum in the sense that South African-based players are generally felt to at least be in a more beneficial position to advance their Springbok ambitions by being firmly ‘in sight’ in the domestic season.

Assessing the quality and consistency of game time in Japan is an undeniably more challenging task compared to overseas-based South Africans in Europe, for example.

To digress slightly for a second, though, there do seem to be some undeniable similarities between the situation Springbok star Makazole Mapimpi faced last year when he received a highly lucrative offer from Japan.

It was also one of those ‘too good to refuse’ deals, but there was a compromise of sorts reached when Mapimpi was afforded the opportunity to take up a so-called sabbatical in Japan, before rejoining the Sharks later this year.

It was an interesting dual deal, and one can only wonder if there isn’t a way for a similar option to be arranged to allow for Schickerling to effectively enjoy the best of both worlds.

Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that earning Springbok honours will be a massive consideration for Schickerling, who is very much a player of national interest.

Back in 2016, the towering lock was included in a South Africa A squad that played a two-match series against a touring England Saxons team, and he also received a call-up to the Springboks in 2018.

It’s been openly acknowledged that in 2019 and at the start of 2020, though, the feeling was that Schickerling’s career trajectory had ‘stalled’ amid injuries and inconsistency. However, he began to rediscover top form over the course of this past domestic season.

‘I think he is back to where he was when he was selected for the 2018 Springbok tour, which is really exciting,’ WP coach John Dobson commented towards the end of last year.

‘There are a couple of factors, one of which is local locks. We don’t know what the international season is going to look like. Also, you want as many Springboks playing in South Africa as possible and JD could be one of those.

‘We spoke earlier this year, before lockdown, and the word we used was that he had stalled. This is his critical year to pick up his trajectory again, to become a top-class, international No 5 lock, which I have absolutely no doubt he is going to be. This year is critical for all sorts of reasons.’

As it turns out, Schickerling now also faces a critical decision as he looks to chart the next direction after arriving at another career crossroad.

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Craig Lewis