Two years ago Schalk Burger was fighting for his life but in a remarkable turnaround in fortunes he is now battling for a place in South Africa’s Rugby World Cup squad.
The loose-forward was so ill from bacterial meningitis after having a cyst close to his spinal cord removed that his family were advised to say their goodbyes.
However, the 2007 World Cup winner has now not only returned to the rugby field but has displayed the kind of blistering form for The Stormers in Super Rugby which looks almost certain to book him a ticket to this year’s global showpiece.
“I was seriously ill and battling for my life,” Burger told the South African newspaper Business Day after being awarded the Comeback of the Year prize at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Shanghai.
“On about the third day in hospital my wife phoned my family and closest friends and told them to come and say goodbye because I was on my way out.
“I was conscious of it. But I was literally just fighting from heartbeat to heartbeat. And every heartbeat felt like a knife stabbing in my brain.
“At times I felt like just stopping, but I could literally feel myself then slipping and would have to fight again.”
Passionate on the field, the 32-year-old said that he used anger to help him fight off the disease which caused him to lose 30kg (66lb) in weight.
“I saw it as a fight that I had to win. At that stage there was a lot of confusion, and I think a lot of my motivation was driven by anger.
“I was also newly married and my eldest son was six months old, so that gives you added motivation to fight and battle through.”
As well as his ambition to seal a place in Heyneke Meyer’s squad for the World Cup, which starts on 18 September, Burger that said his brush with death had made him more philosophical about his future.
“Before I got injured and ill rugby played a massive part in what I was and what I did,” he said. “It dominated life. After that life got put into perspective for me.
“I wasn’t an emotional guy beforehand but now I do get quite emotional about the sentimental side of things. Rugby is a much smaller part of my life.”
South Africa have been drawn in Pool B at the World Cup, alongside Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies