World Cup winner Faf de Klerk has revealed for the first time how badly he was struck down by Covid-19 in October as one of numerous Sale Sharks players who tested positive for the virus. The major outbreak, which ultimately affected 27 players and staff, saw Sale unable to finish out their Gallagher Premiership campaign, which looked certain to earn them a play-off place.

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Their final game with Worcester could not be played and instead of battling for the title, livewire scrum-half de Klerk found himself in isolation and fighting the virus.

De Klerk told RugbyPass: “I had very severe body pains and fever for about three to four days and once that broke I felt okay. I didn’t have any loss of taste or smell but then after that trying to get into training, the body didn’t react well for the first few weeks. 

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The All Blacks react to their defeat by Argentina

“But the second day of pre-season training at Sale, the body felt great with so much more energy and I realised that it had taken me a while to get over it and regain that energy. It took a few weeks to get it completely out of the system and I’m now firing.

“It has been tough, especially when I had the virus and was completely isolated for two weeks. The first week I was pretty poorly and then it became frustrating not being able to do anything in the second. Luckily we are now back training. That does make it easier and when you get home you just want to relax. There are people in a much worse position than I am and I always think about that and I try and see the positives.”

De Klerk believes the fact so many other teammates at Sale had also tested positive helped in terms of sharing experiences and keeping each other motivated during a situation that Steve Diamond revealed on Tuesday his players were cleared of blame for by the RFU. “With everybody going through that you could ask around and get a sense of how they are doing.

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“It does help because you don’t feel like you are on your own struggling. The boys who didn’t contract it were asking if they could help out delivering stuff to us. That was really good to see the group standing up for each other. It’s a bit of blessing going forward that most of the group has had it and, hopefully, that is a good sign that we may not get it again.”

Eleven months before he became ill with the virus, de Klerk was deep in conversation with Prince Harry wearing only a baseball hat, South African flag budgie smugglers and a World Cup winners’ medal around his neck. It became one of the iconic pictures of the Springboks post-match dressing room celebrations after their 32-12 World Cup final win over England in Yokohama.

However, instead of signalling the start of a memorable period of playing success, the world champions have not played since November 2 last year thanks to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. De Klerk, who will be taking on Northampton in the opening Premiership match of the 2020/21 season on Friday night, was supposed to be part of a large Sale contingent helping the Springboks compete in the Rugby Championship in Australia.  

However, the world champions withdrew due to a lack of preparation time and they could go into the three-Test series with the British and Irish Lions next July very short of match practice. Is de Klerk concerned about the lack of Test match activity? “We are all very keen to get back with the Springboks and see if we can continue at that level. It is strange and who would have thought we would not have played again by now. 

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“We are talking a lot with the coaches and conditioners and it makes you feel part of things and gives you the confidence to keep working hard. I’m sure they will figure some things out (before the Lions) and they are doing all the preparation work.

“We won’t go into the Lions series unprepared. We will never go into a Test not being ready to win that game and I’m very confident in the management and they will make sure we will be prepared properly.

“Not being able to finish the Premiership season with Sale was frustrating and disappointing. We really wanted to get into the playoffs and then anything can happen. It will linger with us for a bit but now the challenge is to be better than we were last season because there were some slip-ups. If we play the way we can we can beat any side in the Premiership.”

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