Wales lock Jake Ball has put a “hard and frustrating” catalogue of injuries behind him to become a key Rugby World Cup performer.
The Scarlets forward can painfully recall having a “hole” in his back where a muscle had stopped working due to nerve damage after undergoing shoulder surgery.
And, when a biceps rupture, concussion and torn toe ligaments are added to his injury count in recent times, it underlines the admirable resilience he has shown.
Ball has repeatedly stepped up to the plate for Wales, and particularly in Japan, where his second-row partnership with skipper Alun Wyn Jones has proved an important factor in victories over Georgia and Australia.
“It was just unlucky I guess,” Ball said. “There was nothing I could have done to prevent a lot of things that have happened. I am just enjoying being back and playing regularly.
“The most frustrating thing about my shoulder was that they said it was meant to be a four-month return. Then there was a bit of a complication because I had some nerve damage from the operation.
“That set me back and it was hard for me. There was a point where it just wasn’t getting any stronger.
“I had a hole in my back where the muscle had just stopped working, and at one point I wasn’t sure that was going to get any better.
“I was seeing the nerve specialist and he was saying, ‘Look, this is probably going to take between six and 10 months’. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t see it taking that long,’ but in fairness to him, he was about right.”
Ascot-born Ball qualified for Wales through his father, who hails from Colwyn Bay, and he was a one-time cricketing colleague of the Marsh brothers Mitchell and Shaun after moving to Australia.
As a member of the Western Australia under-19 cricket squad, fast bowler Ball once sent down a delivery which was clocked at 82 miles per hour.
But since arriving at the Scarlets and breaking into Test rugby, he has not looked back, winning 38 caps and becoming an essential part of Wales head coach Warren Gatland’s plans.
“To go for the best part of five years without an injury, which is probably what I had, and I was very durable, playing 80 minutes a game, to then having that patch was very frustrating from a mental side as well,” he added.
“I had patches where I would come back and was just starting to get going again and playing some good rugby, and I would get hit with something else. That was the annoying bit.
“I just tried to use the time wisely, did a lot of gym work and put my head into that. I am not going to lie, it is hard and frustrating.”
Wales resume World Cup action against Fiji next Wednesday, when victory in Oita would secure a quarter-final place.
“The biggest motivation when you are injured is watching people play in that position – that drives you,” Ball said.
“There is no-one at the top level who isn’t competitive and doesn’t want to start. That is your ultimate goal.
“There is a lot of self-belief, a lot of quality in the squad, and it’s an exciting place to be.
“We just have to target these next two games (against Fiji and Uruguay) and make sure we finish top of our pool.”
Owen Farrell dismissed concern for his wellbeing after he was the victim of a dangerous tackle to the head in England’s 39-10 victory over Argentina at Tokyo Stadium.
Eddie Jones’ men became the first team to secure their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals after posting a third-successive bonus-point win that cements their position at the summit of Pool C.
The match turned when lock Tomas Lavanini became the fifth player to be sent off at Japan 2019 after he caught Farrell on the jaw with his shoulder in the 18th minute.
Nine days earlier Farrell was the victim of a similar challenge by the USA’s John Quill, who was also shown a red card.
Farrell was treated by a medic on the pitch but alarm has been raised that he was not sent for a head injury assessment (HIA).
“I feel fine. It’s obviously concussion that’s the worry but I didn’t get hit anywhere near the top of the head,” England’s captain said.
“Maybe your jaw gets a bit sore but I was fine and there was no need for a HIA.”
The illegal tackle on Farrell ignited one of several flashpoints in a feisty encounter.
“I probably wouldn’t call them fights. There was a lot of stuff off the ball. It’s not something we want to get caught up in but we tried to look after our players,” Farrell said.
A comfortable victory was marred by Billy Vunipola’s ankle injury that meant the number eight was unable to appear for the second half.
Jones confirmed that the joint had been twisted, adding: “We don’t think it’s too serious.”
A report emerged overnight that Jones was hoping to attend the funeral of his Randwick mentor Jeff Sayle, which takes place in Australia on the eve of next weekend’s climax to Pool C against France.
The flight from Tokyo to Sydney takes nine-and-a-half hours and England’s head coach admitted the logistics involved makes it unlikely he would be present.
“Unless the RFU hire a concord for me, it’ll be quite difficult to go,” Jones said.
“I’m negotiating with BA, concord and the RFU to see what we can do. Obviously I’d like to go but I’ve got a lot of responsibility here. I’m conscious of that.
“The travel makes it difficult so I doubt very much that I’ll be going, as much as I’d like to.”
England will face Wales or Australia in the quarter-finals depending on the outcome of their clash with France.
“We’re just worried about France next week. It’s qualification for the quarter-finals but the emphasis is just about getting better for the next game,” Jones said.
“When Argentina went down to 14 men, they possibly had a psychological lift and it’s human nature that we dropped off a little bit because you think you’re going to win the game.
“I was really pleased with how the players came back in the second half and dominated. If you’d have said we’d have 15 points after three games, we’d be pretty happy.”
Argentina coach Mario Ledesma admitted Lavanini’s dismissal was justified as he counted the cost of a result that effectively dumps the Pumas out of the World Cup.
“It had a big impact because it was early in the game and I thought it was fair. We lost some power in the forwards and that’s why we had a very difficult game,” Ledesma said.
South Africa ran riot against 14-man Italy to secure a 49-3 victory in their World Cup Pool B encounter in Shizuoka.
The impressive Cheslin Kolbe scored twice while Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman and Malcolm Marx also got on the scoresheet in a comprehensive victory.
Italy spent the majority of the second half with 14 players after loosehead Andrea Lovotti was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Duane Vermeulen.
The seven-try victory takes South Africa to the summit of Pool B and all but ensures their place in the quarter-finals. However, a late injury to star man Kolbe soured a good night.
The defeat marks Italy’s first of the competition and they will now have to beat New Zealand to stand any chance of progression to the knockout stages.
South Africa, who bounced back from defeat to the All Blacks with a strong showing against Namibia, were ahead inside five minutes of Friday’s fixture. Following fine forward play by the Springboks, Kolbe found himself in space before skipping into the corner.
With 26 minutes gone, Mbonambi added a second after South Africa won the line-out and the hooker went in from a metre out.
Italy remained in contention at the interval, trailing 17-3, but any chance they had of a comeback were put to bed following Lovotti’s dismissal with just two minutes of the second half gone.
Lovotti and team-mate Federico Zani combined to lift Vermeulen in the air before dropping him headfirst to the ground.
Referee Wayne Barnes showed Lovotti the red card, and Zani could count himself fortunate to escape without punishment.
The floodgates opened, with Kolbe doubling his tally after 53 minutes when he pounced on Handre Pollard’s delightful cross-field kick.
Am then ran over following a frenetic moment of play to earn South Africa’s second bonus point in as many matches, before Mapimpi scored his 11th try in 11 outings for the Springboks.
With Italy continuing to tire, replacement forward Snyman dived over with four minutes left. Marx then scored in stoppage time to complete the win.
The only negative for South Africa came when Kolbe went down with an injury to his left leg in the closing stages.
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