When Eben Joubert gets back on the rugby field next
month he will have completed a journey to hell and back. Rugby
writer Steve Hepburn talks to the Otago flanker about a
roller-coaster nine months.
Eben Joubert is determined to revive his rugby career after
a long injury layoff. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Eben Joubert says there is always someone worse off than him.
But he has just come through a nine-month period that would
have broken some people.
A relatively straightforward shoulder operation turned into
agonising pain, he was forced to spend nearly two months in
hospital, and his body became addicted to painkillers before
he forced himself off the drugs through sheer willpower,
sending his body into uncontrollable shakes and sweats.
It all started for Joubert (27) on a day when, like every
other person connected with Otago rugby, he suffered pain.
Joubert was having a whale of a game for Otago against
Southland in a Ranfurly Shield challenge in Invercargill last
August when a scrum collapsed on him in the second half,
dislocating his right shoulder.
Otago was leading when he left the field, and as Joubert was
being nursed on the sidelines, Southland managed to squeeze
ahead and retain the shield.
Joubert was gutted, like everyone else. He then had to face
the option of either rehabilitation, which contained risks,
or an operation. He chose the latter and went under the knife
on August 31.
Screws and a plate were inserted into his right shoulder and
he was set to start the long road to getting back on the
But the pain which he thought would be there for a few days
refused to go away.
"It was just agonising. I thought it was just normal and I
was being just a bit soft. 'Just suck it up and it will get
better,' I thought.
"But I was in so much pain. I can't describe the pain. I was
getting maybe three hours' sleep a night. Going for walks in
the middle of the night to get away from the pain. Having
three or four showers a night. Just doing anything to stop me
thinking about the pain."
He was on painkillers and the dosage increased as he managed
to keep up his studies for a master of business
administration degree at the University of Otago, although he
did not know how he did that, considering the number of
painkillers he was taking.
"People say I used to come into class and my eyes were way up
high, like I was in a daze. The memory is not great about
that. I managed to pass all the papers but I don't know how.
Maybe they were feeling sorry for me."
Seven weeks after the operation and with the shoulder showing
no improvement, surgeon Simon McMahon sent Joubert for an MRI
scan, which revealed a serious infection in his shoulder.
"He put an insertion into my shoulder and then 20ml of yellow
pus came out. At that time I was at the end of my wits."
Joubert went into Dunedin Hospital and in the next few weeks
the wound was scraped out and an infection, which had got
right under the screws in his shoulder, was cleaned out.
But that was not the end of his troubles.
"They gave me some different antibiotics and I had an
allergic reaction to them. My body was covered with this huge
rash. My body was allergic to penicillin. So they switched
As the antibiotics kicked in, he tried to give up the
painkillers but his body suffered withdrawal symptoms.
"I was getting the shakes, going crazy. It was awful."
Out of hospital after seven weeks, he knew only he could get
his body right.
"By Christmas time I was going back to South Africa and made
the decision then I had to get off them [painkillers].
"They said to me once I finished the antibiotics I could get
into a drugs programme to wean me off them. But I didn't want
that. I wanted to do it myself."
Joubert slowly reduced his drug intake when home with his
parents in South Africa, but it was not easy. Coming out in
cold sweats and uncontrollable shakes, he hid the the worst
of it from his parents, as he crawled his body towards better
As the new year came in, he was making progress and was
starting to feel better. He had lost muscle, doubled his body
fat, but he knew he was on the road to recovery.
Now he is back, as fit as he has ever been, starting to get
back into some contact work on the training field, and should
play his first club game next month.
He also celebrated last month becoming fully qualified as a
New Zealand rugby player, having spent three years in the
But, if anything, the past nine months have given him some
perspective in life.
"Before this, my total focus was on rugby. And it still means
a lot to me. But now if I go out in my first game and injure
my shoulder again, then that will be what happens. There are
a whole lot of worse people off than me.
"Some guys are destined to make it. I am determined to. What
I lack in natural ability I can make up with determination,
discipline, dedication and desire."