Ollie Chessum has admitted fearing his Rugby World Cup dream was over when he dislocated his ankle during the Six Nations.
The Leicester lock thought he had just twisted his ankle back in England training in March, but the shocked reaction of his team-mates made him look down.
His foot was at the wrong angle to his leg, and Chessum conceded he thought his World Cup chances had gone in that moment.
Chessum missed the Six Nations-closing 29-16 defeat in Ireland, but has since grafted back to full fitness – and won a place in England’s World Cup squad.
The 22-year-old hailed England’s coaches for keeping faith in his abilities, as he inched back to feature in the final two warm-up matches.
“When I first did the injury the first thing I said to Freddie Steward was ‘that could be my World Cup’,” said Chessum.
“Obviously he said ‘don’t think like that’. But I was quite emotional at the time. There’ve been days in the last five months where I’ve thought it doesn’t feel great, but getting back was always the goal.
“It was just a bit of a freak training incident. I got a tackle from behind, I got my foot caught.
“Initially I just thought I’d rolled it, but as I rolled over and the lads were around me, I saw them all turn away and that’s when I knew I should probably have a quick look – and my foot wasn’t where it was supposed to be.”
England boss Steve Borthwick sounded a cautionary note when detailing Chessum’s injury blow back in March.
But the Boston-born second row insisted he quickly realised he would have a good chance of making the World Cup if he recovered diligently and without any setbacks.
After weeks rehabbing with just conditioning staff, Chessum was boosted by rejoining the main squad – then finally making a playing return off the bench in the 29-10 defeat by Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, August 19.
“Rehab is what you make of it, I wouldn’t say it’s enjoyable, but there are times where you can see the progress and be boosted by that,” said Chessum.
“From day one when my ankle wasn’t functioning at all to starting to run then building up, it’s fulfilling.
“But there were also days when I feared I wouldn’t make it, and you start to worry if it will ever function the way it did. That’s all part of it really. And in the end it’s flown by, taking it day by day has helped it fly by.
“I felt it was a learning experience ultimately, and in rugby it’s probably one I’ll go through again.”
Chessum emerged as a vital scrummage component in the Six Nations, packing down at tighthead lock as England rebuilt their set-piece reputation among both peers and officials.
The powerful scrummager insisted he is happy to play on either side of the scrum, but his performances in the engine room mark him out for a long future run in the five shirt.
If Chessum is back at absolute full tilt, then he will likely start against Argentina in England’s vital World Cup opener in Marseille on Saturday week.
“I like scrummaging behind the tightheads, whichever side you play you have a massive role to play, but behind the tighthead it’s definitely a challenge,” said Chessum.
“He’s scrummaging against two blokes in front of him so you’ve got to give something. Being in camp here with Dan Cole, obviously I’ve scrummaged with him a fair bit at Leicester, so I’m familiar with that.
“I’ve also scrummaged a bit on the loosehead side as well, so I feel comfortable on both sides.”