Atu Moli was so hungry in his comeback from a horrific leg injury, that coach Colin Cooper felt obliged to bow to his request for extra minutes in the Chiefs’ opening pre-season Super Rugby game last weekend.

The one-game All Blacks prop hadn’t played for almost a year after sustaining a knock to his left quad in the opening match of last season – against the Crusaders in Christchurch on February 24.

While the blow at the time seemed rather innocuous – Moli completing the match, and still not even able to locate the incident on tape – it turned out to be quite the opposite, as he was sent on a harrowing journey back to footy, with an injury he was told is generally only seen as a result of car accidents and can potentially end up in amputation

It wasn’t till two days after that match against the Crusaders that Moli had pain flare up and had to visit a Hamilton A & E clinic. He was diagnosed with a haematoma – an abnormal collection of blood outside a blood vessel, caused by significant impact – and was suffering from compartment syndrome – a painful condition caused when pressure within muscles builds to dangerous levels.

“I had, like, four operations, just opening and closing the wound, and from there on with the skin graft from behind my leg, they left it open for like three months, then went back in and closed it up again,” Moli said.

The 23-year-old was eyeing playing time in the Mitre 10 Cup for Waikato, but his recovery didn’t end up happening that quickly.

During his extended layoff he took a coaching paper at university to help take his mind off things, and now he’s finally back on the track – turning out in the Chiefs’ trial match against the Blues in Kaikohe last Saturday.

“It was awesome, just getting that feeling back of what Super Rugby actually tastes like,” Moli said. “I wasn’t really worried about my leg to start off with, it was more the lungs than anything else.

“I was just hungry to get on the field and just remembering when I was lying on the couch doing nothing and itching to play.”

Cooper said Moli was “in great shape” and that while he was only going to give him 10 minutes, Moli wanted 10 more, so got it, then came off the field feeling good.

Now he’s preparing to step the minutes up further in Friday night’s final pre-season match against the Reds in Brisbane.

“The medical team’s been pretty good with it, just managing my time and load,” Moli said. “I think it’s more with me being confident and what not. And after having a bit of a taste in Kaikohe, I’m pretty keen to have some more minutes under my belt.”

That will see him primed for round one against the Highlanders in Hamilton the following Friday


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