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.”
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