Injuries are part and parcel of top-level rugby. For Joe van Niekerk, however, a freak lung injury - suffered over a month ago - very nearly cost him more than just his rugby career.
The former Springbok stalwart and current Toulon skipper picked up the injury in a Top 14 match against Bayonne on September 9, after a member of the opposition jumped on his back.
However, Van Niekerk, despite being in some discomfort, continued playing for Toulon before collapsing at training on Tuesday, October 18 after feeling a sharp pain in his lungs - having just, days before, captained his team to a 38-0 win over Perpignan
He was rushed to hospital and was diagnosed with pneumothorax (known as the detachment of the pleura - a serious membrane in one's lungs - or, simply put, a collapsed lung) and underwent an operation the following day in Marseille.
It was quite a serious procedure - known as a thoracoscopy (with small incisions made in his chest) - and he will not feature for Toulon this year.
Van Niekerk was initially ordered to take at least a full month off training after the operation, before beginning rehabilitation and, eventually, eyeing a return to rugby in the early part of 2012.
The 52-Test Bok is recovering well at his home in Toulon and he told in-site.co.za: "I'm so grateful for my health - it was quite a scare!
"I played on for about a month or so before they discovered what was actually wrong with me... so it could have been a lot worse I guess.
"It's never nice missing games, and I'm not the best watcher, but I'm just thankful that all is ok and I'll be taking no chances in my bid to make a full recovery."
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