JS: It’s been a long road back, I was out for 28 months, I had announced I was finished and I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. I had five operations and they were tough times, it was all very dark times. I felt I had no other choice but to call it a day.
But after announcing your retirement you are back on the rugby field. How did that come about?
JS: I had one operation in Bloemfontein and then three in Pretoria. After that I tried everything to fix the achilles but there was no way around it and I was forced to retire. But then a surgeon in Bloemfontein, Dr Johan Kruger, said he could give me a chance of playing again. But for me it wasn’t about playing again, I just wanted to walk without pain. For 25 months I would stand up and go to bed with pain.
I could immediately feel the difference after that operation, the next morning there was no pain, and I said to my wife that I’m going to try and play again.
Thanks to winning the Top 14 and the Heineken Cup with Toulon, it’s already been a very successful comeback too, hasn’t it?
JS: It’s been great playing for Toulon and winning those two cups was an awesome feeling. What better way to celebrate a comeback than that and to then be picked for the Springboks again.
How important have Toulon been in your comeback?
JS: The important thing is the guys around you and Toulon have some of the best players in the world. I had the privilege of playing alongside Jonny Wilkinson, which was an awesome feeling. It was just amazing to make my comeback and the cherry on top was winning the Heineken Cup and Top 14. I look back a year and I had just played my first 80 minutes; I’ve been able to set new goals at Toulon and I always wanted to play in three World Cups. I missed out on 2011 because of the achilles injury, but I hope next year will make up for that.
Has your game improved or changed while you’ve been at Toulon?
JS: You know, for me, the biggest challenge has always been that I play for myself. For me it’s about work ethic and my own high standards. I feel that I’ve been able to reach that level again at Toulon. I knew that if I can get to that level again, then I can play good rugby and Toulon have allowed me to reach it.
How important is it having several fellow South Africans at Toulon?
JS: I always said I would never leave Bloemfontein or go play overseas. But having South Africans at Toulon made it much easier. We have Wednesdays off so then we can braai [barbecue] and speak Afrikaans together.
What has it been like being back with the Springbok squad?
JS: People say the coach is bringing back all these old guns, but I was only 29 when I played my last Test and I’m not that old now either. Just to be part of this environment again is awesome, I was a bit nervous coming back, but I can see the work ethic is fantastic.
When you look back to 2007 and our World Cup win, we had guys like Os du Randt and John Smit playing and you need those senior players, just their presence brings calm to the side. When you’re going through tough times, then the young guys look up to the older players to make the decisions. You need that balance and it’s a healthy balance in the Springbok team.
There’s a chance you will be up against your Toulon team-mate Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. How will that be for you?
JS: You always want to prove a point when you play against your team-mates and if I get the chance I’ll try and put a big tackle in on him or do something else not so nice to him! But he’s a lovely guy and an unbelievable player and I look forward to getting together with him after the game.