You would have thought that Oupa Mohoje would be immune to the cold isolation so symptomatic of our Covid-19 times.
After all‚ the versatile Springboks and Cheetahs forward has spent so much time away from the field over the last two years that he’d approach lockdown with feet on the coffee table.
Not so. “I was never in for it‚” said Mohoje‚ whose 2018/19 PRO14 campaign lasted just 18 minutes due to a rather crippling knee injury.
“I think if you threw everything into the 2020 basket then you got it all wrong. The wall cracked‚ try again next year‚” said Mohoje about his scuppered plans to return to the field with verve and vigour this year.
“The world is at a pause. It was very tough and I wasn’t ready for this. I said ‘damn‚ I’m gonna be ready by the time the league is done.’ That was the plan but Covid came and ruined everything.
“That put me in a deep hole. You wanna play because you wanna remind people about the quality that you can produce. That also enables you to sign a better contract than the one you’re on.
“Then something like Covid happens‚ it puts you in a very dark place.”
Thankfully for Mohoje the light switch was within reach. Since October last year he’d been seeing a therapist to help him cope and contextualise his extended time on the sidelines.
“I’m actually very blessed. I was speaking to a therapist and that helped me a lot to get through this tough time. I put all my eggs in one basket in 2020. It was a year of comeback and return.
“Luckily all my eggs aren’t cracked. I signed a new contract with the Cheetahs (until 31 May 2021) and I’m grateful. I have recovered fully from my injury. There is a silver lining. That is my focus now.”
Part of that silver lining is giving his knee even more time to strengthen‚ while in a perverse way‚ it brings him to more or less to the same level as his fellow pro’s who have so forcefully been wrapped in cotton wool.
Does he feel they all start from square one?
“Without a doubt. Although I’ve missed out a lot over the last two years these four months have given me time to‚ for lack of a better word‚ catch up.”
Despite all his orthopaedic misadventure‚ the 29-year-old believes dealing with it doesn’t become easier.
“This is the worst year I’ve ever had. I don’t think any sportsman is ready for such an injury. If I was in my early 20s I might have said I have 10 more years. Now that I’m old I think ‘shit’ is it time for me to call it? What’s this? What’s happening? I started asking myself a lot of questions like ‘is it time for retirement?’ The older you get the tougher it gets.”
Mohoje says fitness permitting he’d like to play for another five years but concedes ‘anything can happen’.
Although coaching is not on his radar post retirement‚ Mohoje doesn’t see himself stepping away from the game completely.
“I realise that a lot of players find themselves in my situation earlier in their career. The players get injured and they don’t have the support that they need. I’d like to support the mental side.
“Mental health is very important and it would be great to help younger players with that.”
Mohoje insists he can still equip himself with ‘certain skills’ as he plans for life post playing. “It can be nerve wracking but I’m quite excited.”