Cape Town - Talented lock JD Schickerling is set to make his return to the playing field when the Western Province Under-21s face up to the Golden Lions' Under-21 team in Johannesburg on Friday (15:45 kick-off).
Schickerling, who has represented his country at Under-18 and Under-20 level, suffered a broken neck in a provincial Under-21 clash against the Blue Bulls on August 30, 2014, but has been cleared to make his return to action just over 13 months later.
It is an incredible story and testament to the player's hard work and courage, as well as the support of those around him - starting with his rugby-loving family and finishing with WP Rugby.
WP Under-21 coach Robbie Fleck told the WP Rugby website: "Any rugby-mad person wants to see JD back on the field after suffering such a traumatic injury - it's a special moment for him, his family and us, as his team-mates and friends.
“He is a quality player and a quality individual and it's great to have him back playing the game that he loves so much.
"It's been a long road back for JD, but he was officially cleared to resume playing about two months ago," explained Fleck.
"Our medical team in conjunction with the surgeon who operated on him and the various specialists have been talking for some time now, so it's been coming for a while.
"Crucially, however, he has been mature about his comeback and we've all carefully plotted his return almost to the day. He's been training with us for a few months now and taking contact over the past two (months) - he's looked sharp and he has a presence about him," added Fleck.
"His team-mates were stoked for him when his name was read out on Tuesday. JD, as one would expect, is excited, but we know it's all about him getting back out there and regaining his confidence... And, if all goes according to plan, we will look to increase his game time the following week."
Joining Schickerling on the bench this week is fit-again flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis, who has been out of action since mid-August after suffering a serious concussion.
"Again, I have to complement our medical team, they've plotted his (Jean-Luc's) comeback superbly,” said Fleck.
"Jean-Luc's concussion was serious, so he wasn't able to train much initially and it affected his fitness. At a push I guess he could've played against the Bulls at Newlands two weeks ago, but we kept him back with the bye in mind - giving him the extra two weeks off - and he's also champing at the bit to make his return.
"We have a plan for JD and Jean-Luc, in terms of their game time off the bench, and our selections - both starting and on the bench - have been made to cover all our bases."
While Schickerling and Du Plessis eagerly await their return to action from the bench, fullback Jason Worrall, left-wing Marcus Kleinbooi (from Tygerberg RFC - who was identified during the pre-season trial period), flyhalf Brandon Thomson, scrumhalf SP Ferreira, lock Johannes Momsen and hooker Chad Solomon all come into the starting XV this week.
Backs Grant Hermanus and Sibahle Maxwane are injured and lock David Ribbans is nursing a back injury, while highly-rated speedster Leolin Zas is serving a two-week suspension for a dangerous tackle against the Bulls.
"Our bye came at a good time after a nine-week run of matches, but we came back to training on Monday - in a short week - with the Cheetahs breathing down our necks on the log," said Fleck.
"Short weeks are also quite tough, but I think our preparation has gone well and although we've made more changes than I would've liked I am very comfortable with the team selected. I think we have a strong line-up with a strong bench at our disposal.
"The Lions will be hurting after a few losses of late and they need to win this match in order to stay in the hunt for the semi-finals, so it's a final of sorts for them. They're a quality side who are always tough to beat on their own turf at altitude as we look to remain ahead of the chasing pack."
WP Under-21 team:
15. Jason Worrall, 14. Khanyo Ngcukana, 13. EW Viljoen, 12. Jarryd Sage, 11. Marcus Kleinbooi, 10. Brandon Thomson, 9. SP Ferreira, 8. Rikus Bothma (captain), 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 6. Luke Stringer, 5. Kobus van Dyk, 4. Johannes Momsen, 3. Frans van Wyk, 2. Chad Solomon, 1. Wesley Adonis
Substitutes: 16. Martin Wipplinger, 17. Liam Hendricks, 18. JD Schickerling, 19. Devon Nash, 20. Justin Phillips, 21. Ryno Eksteen, 22. Jean-Luc du Plessis
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe