All Black centre Francis Saili has finally been cleared of the concussion symptoms that threatened to force him out of the game, ending his Harlequins career before it had begun.
Saili arrived at Quins from Munster as a key signing last season but was badly concussed in his second appearance for the club after misjudging a tackle on England lock Joe Launchbury in the 41-10 European Champions Cup defeat by Wasps on October 22. In total, he managed just 127 minutes on the pitch in the famous multi-coloured jersey with Quins struggling so badly they parted company with director of rugby John Kingston, who saw his three main recruits all struck down by serious injury.
Besides Saili’s concussion, outside half Demetri Catrakilis needed surgery after a freak throat injury left him fearing for his life and then Namibia No8 Renaldo Bothma broke his arm three times during the season.
While Catralikis and Bothma attracted most of the media attention with their injury woes, Saili’s nightmare went largely unnoticed as the club worked hard to try to find a solution to the concussion problems that would not clear up. They sent Saili to a brain consultant in Birmingham and the centre became increasingly frustrated with the negative verdicts having followed the specialist’s advice in a bid to free himself of the symptoms.
With concussion forcing an increasing number of high profile players to quit the game, there were real concerns that Saili would join that list and he admitted: “I was confident when I went for the second and third appointments with the specialist and each time I thought I was going to get the go ahead to start playing again.
“Each time I did the tests, waited and then went into see him expecting the all clear and both times it was a disappointing outcome.
“I had to then ask myself “ what else can I do to get myself right” and it was all about getting the brain settled. Concussion is not like having a knee injury or something like that which people can see. Concussion is a serious injury and you cannot push the boundaries to get back earlier like other injuries. The great news is that I have now been cleared and that’s really fantastic.
“It was all quite draining and the most frustrating thing was that I couldn’t control the situation. I was rehabbing with all the guys who were playing every week and all I could do was try and stay positive around the group.
“It was tough with myself, Demetri and Renaldo all being out for long periods last season and we have a little joke amongst ourselves and we give each other stick. I ask Renaldo “how many games are you going to play next season?” and we all want to be there for the full season to help the club and that is why we are all working so hard in pre-season training.
“I think all three of us can help the group next season and we are all enjoying working with Paul Gustard, the new head of rugby. We want to show through our actions what we can offer Quins and we all want to bounce back from the disappointment of last season because we have a really great squad. This is going to be a big season for us.”
At the moment, Saili, whose brother Peter is a back row forward at Pau, is not able to take part in contact work as he is completing a recovery programme following a dislocated shoulder he suffered in one of the five games he did manage to play last season against London Irish.
It only confirmed that it was a season to forget but he confident of making headlines for the right reasons in the Gallagher Premiership. “I am a week away from being able to start contact” he added. “We want to win the championship like every other team and Paul (Gustard) is setting the example because he was in the gym when I got there at 6.30am!”
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