Former Cheetahs centre William Small-Smith says he is amazed at the bounce-back ability of Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard.
Pollard returned to action for his French club Montpellier last weekend after being sidelined since September with a torn anterior cruciate (ACL) ligament.
It was the second major knee injury in Pollard's career and in 2016 he nearly had his arm amputated after picking up an infection in hospital following shoulder surgery.
Small-Smith, who recently retired from rugby due to concussion concerns, told Sport24 this week it was a "near miracle" that Pollard bounced back to help the Springboks win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
"Handre has just returned from an ACL injury and I take my hat off to him for the way he is doing it at Montpellier," Small-Smith said.
"In terms of my injuries, I have broken toes, torn tendons in my foot, had five or six knee operations, two shoulder injuries, a broken hand and a couple of broken noses. However, like Handre, my big injury was my knee (with the SA under-20s) and I came back a bit too soon. Double knee injuries one straight after another is a tough thing. My rugby career could have just as well ended at 21, so to have had another eight years of professional rugby is a blessing."
Small-Smith said he would pick Pollard to start at No 10 for the upcoming British & Irish Lions series.
"In terms of Handre, I really hope he is fit and strong for the impending series. He was an 18-year-old boy when I first played against him and someone I later played alongside at the Junior World Championship. You need to have a certain amount of talent, mental toughness and be able to put the hard work in during rehabilitation to come back from the injuries he's had.
"To perform at the level he's been performing at consistently is unbelievable. I remember he also injured his shoulder a few years ago. He subsequently picked up an infection and was so sick. Coming back from that and playing any rugby was a near-miracle let alone winning a World Cup. I hope he'll be the 'general' for the series because he is a special player."
When probed on what his Springbok starting backline would be for the series, Small-Smith said: "Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Makazole Mapimpi, Damian de Allende, Lukhyano Am, Cheslin Kolbe and Willie le Roux. That is the backline that won us the World Cup..."
Pollard, meanwhile, said after last weekend's European Challenge Cup win over Bath that his knee was in tip-top shape.
"It was unbelievably nice to be back on the field and it was easy for me to trust the knee," Pollard told Netwerk24.
"I knew the knee is strong. I underwent rigorous testing and have been training for four weeks with the team... so there was no doubt."