Springbok World Cup winner Bismarck du Plessis admits he feels ashamed after risking his long-term health by continuing to play while struggling with a serious neck injury.

The 34-year-old hooker suffered a large hernia in his neck almost a year ago, but ignored unbearable pain and his own wisdom in an effort to help his club side Montpellier in their push for France's Top 14 Championship.

"I am a little bit ashamed of what I did," du Plessis confessed in an interview with thetimes.co.uk.

"If somebody tells me his neck or back is sore, I am the first to tell him it is not worth it.

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"Looking back, how stupid was I? It got so bad my wife and I couldn't sleep in the same bed because every three or four hours I needed painkillers."

The injury cost du Plessis his spot in the squad for South Africa's series against England last June and he ultimately required surgery after Montpellier went down in the Championship final.

The 79-test veteran revealed the problem saw him lose some feeling in his left hand while he relied on painkillers around the clock in an effort to keep himself on the park.

"The pins and needles went down to the last two fingers of my left hand but I never stopped playing," he said.

"I needed painkillers to play, train and sleep. Driving to training I had a pillow under my left arm because in its natural position, the pain was too much. To lessen the effect on my stomach, I ate a lot of natural yoghurt."

Bismarck du Plessis needed painkillers to play, train - and even to sleep. Photo / Getty
Bismarck du Plessis needed painkillers to play, train - and even to sleep. Photo / Getty

After last appearing for South Africa in 2015, a relaxing of rules for selecting overseas-based players' means du Plessis is back in the frame to play in this year's Rugby World Cup.

Having been a part of South Africa's 2007 World Cup win over England in France, du Plessis would dearly love another shot at the title.

So much so that even despite his past injury experiences, he admits he'd likely push his body to the limit once again if he believed the occasion warranted it.

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"Would I do it again? Probably. We are a young club who've never been French champions and I felt if I could play my one per cent part, I would do it. And we lost badly in the final.

"I played on until October and then had the operation. The surgeon photographed the hernia because he'd never seen one so big."