The young Southern Kings flanker has picked up a series of freak injuries
Long-term injury: CJ Velleman and his run of bad luck
Sometimes, bad luck just follows you around.
Thrust into the intensity of Super Rugby in 2016, CJ Velleman looked born to play at that level, with the fetcher earning rave reviews and even being compared to Sam Cane and David Pocock. But after making good progress in his recovery from a long-term knee injury sustained that same year, Velleman was struck down again, damaging the same knee at training in 2017. In the year the Kings pivoted to Pro14 rugby, he did not play a minute.
The highly-rated loosie made his long-awaited Pro14 debut in his side’s first victory of the 2018-19 season, against Glasgow Warriors in September 2018, but suspension and another leg inury meant that he has been limited to just ten league games in total. Yet, at only 24, there was a confidence he could begin to realise his immense potential.
The battler was set to make another comeback against Edinburgh on 4 January 2020 after that last leg injury. He was training fully. Then disaster struck. Again.
“CJ was involved in a freak accident at training when he slipped and tore his ACL on his left knee,” Kings head of athletic performance Wayne Taylor told the world. The cruel run continued.
When asked what the hell happened, Velleman tells Rugby World: “I often dwell on this because all of my main knee injuries have happened before any contact, so all of them have been kinda freakish to be honest with you. I guess it’s just a run of super unlucky blows that will hopefully turn now!
“I just keep reminding myself that I’m still super blessed that it’s not career-ending yet. I still have the opportunity to go back in nine months and give it another go. Until the doctor says I must consider stopping, I still have an opportunity to go back to an awesome union.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity and there’s no real testimony without a test. So it’s not hard to make peace with it. It happened, now move on and make the best of it. Even if you dwell on it, it isn’t going to change the outcome it just staggers with the process of recovery.”
Even at a young age, Velleman’s career has been about scrapping hard. He forged a reputation trying to steal ball off much bigger opposition in better-resourced sides. It can boil over – in February he earned a red card for an elbow to a Cheetahs try-scorer, a moment he will have learnt from – but the tenacity is what has seen him come back from injury torment before.
So can he explain what he has learnt on the sidelines?
“I’ll need more than just a page in a book,” he laughs. “The main thing has just been the psychology behind injury. How strong you can come back with a new mindset is incredible and hopefully I’ll be able to show that off in the future.
“For other injured players I’d say: don’t feel too sorry for yourself, it could always have been worse. The sooner you get your recovery plan in motion and do not dwell on what happened, the sooner you’ll be back.”
Which sounds like the ‘pcoket battleship’ is already tearing into his recovery.
To read our long-read on long-term injury, check out the new issue of Rugby World.
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