Stephan Lewies has revealed the gruelling toll of playing through a blood infection in his knee that kept him on antibiotics for three months last season.
The Harlequins captain extended his contract at The Stoop this week, celebrating both a secure future and an end to nine months of serious injury issues.
South Africa lock Lewies would wake up drained of energy with no warning across that three-month grind last term, before an operation at the end of the campaign was meant to cure all ills.
But then he fractured his kneecap in the rehabilitation – turning a six-week recovery into a six-month lay-off.
Now back to fitness, form and rude health, the 30-year-old toasted his new Quins deal amid a brand new appreciation for the fragility of professional sport.
“I played with an infection in my knee last year, which was quite tough,” Lewies tells Standard Sport. “It was in the knee but it went into my blood system and I was on antibiotics for about three months.
“So I played with that for three months and it was really tough, on and off the pitch it affected me, my general health. Some days you’d wake up and have no energy, some days you’d be alright.
“But when the day that you wake up and you don’t feel quite there happens to be game day, you have to battle on. But then I went for the operation after we lost the Premiership semi-final to Saracens in June.
“It was meant to be a six-week injury, but in the process between the op and the start of the rehab I fractured my kneecap. So then six weeks turned into six months and that’s where we are now.
“I’m very grateful to be back, it was really frustrating; sometimes life happens for you and not to you. I’ve had chance to build up my body again, and I feel probably the strongest and fittest I’ve been in a really long time. And I’m looking forward to contributing to the team now.
“Rugby aside, just general life, I’m feeling a lot better, waking up with loads more energy. Just waking up and feeling healthy, I feel great at the minute.
“When you’re in dark moments, you realise how privileged you are in this sport, so just take it day by day and game by game and enjoy it a little bit more and try to give perspective to some of the boys. It can be taken away quite quickly.
“With everything going on, it’s a tough time for a lot of players, so I’m in a fortunate position and it’s a privilege to sign again for such a great club.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, we had Covid, we had a coach sacked halfway through a season, but among the bad stuff there’s been some really great things too; winning the Premiership, and captaining this club, it’s a massive honour.”
Harlequins will host Lewies’ former club the Sharks in Saturday’s Champions Cup clash, with the Durban side bringing a squad loaded with Springbok power to The Stoop.
Quins visited Liv Village on their recent trip to Durban to face the Sharks, a charity enterprise close to Lewies’ heart. The village was set up in 2010 to place vulnerable and orphaned children in a safe family environment.
The Quins boys were brilliant when we visited, they got stuck in coaching the kids.
Lewies donates to the charity every month, and now Quins’ players have pledged to donate a figure that will be boosted by every try they score in this season’s Champions Cup.
While the children who grow up in Liv Village arrive there from the darkest circumstances, Lewies admitted their strength in adversity remains a constant inspiration.
“We went out to Liv Village a few times when I was at the Sharks to interact with the kids and try to inspire them,” says Lewies. “And most of the time you’re the one leaving inspired by those kids.
“The background and where they come from, I think it’s unimaginable. I got involved that way, and started donating monthly to that charity.
“Quins said they wanted to do some community work when we went to Durban, so it was a no-brainer to introduce them to Liv Village. All the players have pledged an amount of money for every try we score throughout the European campaign.
“Hopefully we can support some more people and change some more lives. The Quins boys were brilliant when we visited too, they got stuck in coaching the kids.
“Against all the odds and given how little they have, the kids there are so happy in that environment."