Twelve months after fearing his rugby days were over, braveheart back rower Cornell du Preez aims to guide Worcester into the Premiership’s top six while resurrecting his own Test hopes with Scotland.
This time last year, du Preez was in the early stages of recovery from an horrific throat injury suffered just five minutes into his Warriors debut against Wasps – a collision with Joe Launchbury’s knee that left him with a fractured larynx, barely able to breathe and unable to speak.
Doctors likened it to the type of injury seen in car crashes and du Preez, who had to be fed through his nose for a month whilst undergoing numerous operations, feared the worst. However, with a remarkable recovery now complete, the South African is back at the coalface.
“Personally, it’s just good to be back fully fit and able to play,” du Preez told The Rugby Paper. “It’s exciting. We’ve got high expectations of ourselves to get into the top six this season and, whilst that’s always difficult in such a competitive league, that’s one of our big goals.
“It was a pretty traumatic injury I had, especially at the beginning when everything happened and there were rumours I might not be able to carry on. It was an injury you don’t see a lot and there were a lot of grey areas, but as time goes on you begin to feel much better.
“Eventually the specialists said I was all good to play again so that was a pretty good feeling. Returning to play actually wasn’t too bad because I’d taken a few blows in contact training, so with the specialists saying everything was fine, I’ve just got on with it again.
“It’s just my voice that’s a little deeper now, so I’ll be good for doing some voice-overs perhaps, but it feels special to get a second chance – I’m just very grateful for that.”
Du Preez, 28, is delighted with the support he has received from Worcester, too, as he looks to impress sufficiently to secure a new contract when his current deal expires.
The former Edinburgh man, capped six times by Scotland, said: “There was no pressure from (rugby director) Alan Solomons and from the beginning he just told me to take my time and when I thought I was ready to play again, he’d give me a chance and take it from there.
“The club have looked after me really well, which I’m grateful for, and I love it here. My contract is up this season so we’ll see what happens when we get into talks, but I would love to stay because it feels like we’ve got a group of players here who can really achieve things.”
Beyond that, du Preez would love to reclaim his Scotland place. He added: “I still feel like I have something to prove there. After my injury I just wanted to play again so missing the World Cup wasn’t that disappointing, but in future, who knows? It may happen again.
“First things first, I need to perform on the field for Worcester and whilst we didn’t finish where we wanted to last season, we’re in pretty good shape now. We’ve got a lot of competition across the squad in all positions which will ensure everybody’s on their toes.”
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