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'I felt pretty awful about myself': All Blacks star opens up on injury struggles

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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Rising All Blacks star Braydon Ennor has opened up on his injury struggles that put his test rugby aspirations on hold for more than two years.

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After bursting onto the Kiwi rugby scene with the New Zealand U20 side, Canterbury and the Crusaders between 2017 and 2019, Ennor made his test debut for the All Blacks against Argentina in Buenos Aires two years ago.

While he missed out on World Cup selection later that year, that solitary appearance off the bench looked to kickstart a promising test career in the black jersey.

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The 24-year-old’s rise in form continued with the Crusaders in 2020, which was enough to earn him selection for the South Island in the North vs South clash last September.

Disaster struck in that match, though, as Ennor was forced from the field early in the first half of the South Island’s dramatic 38-35 victory in Wellington with what proved to be a ruptured ACL.

The full extent of his injury wasn’t made clear until the days after the result, and although he was named in Ian Foster’s first-ever All Blacks squad in the lead-up to last year’s Bledisloe Cup series and Tri-Nations, Ennor was ruled out for eight months.

Following a return to action off the bench in the Crusaders’ Super Rugby Aotearoa final win over the Chiefs in May, Ennor looked set to make his long-awaited All Blacks comeback after starring for the franchise throughout Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

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He started at centre in four of his side’s five matches against Australian opposition and looked in fine form as the Crusaders fell agonisingly short of a second final appearance in the space of a month-and-a-half.

Rewarded with selection in the All Blacks squad to play Tonga and Fiji in July, Ennor was set to feature prominently as Foster aimed to build depth throughout his side for the international season ahead.

That was until the youngster was struck down by another injury on the eve of the season-opening test against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium and was sidelined for further five weeks with appendicitis.

It was a cruel blow for Ennor, whose void in the match day squads was filled by other youngsters and inexperienced prospects such as David Havili and Quinn Tupaea.

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Both players capitalised on the opportunities afforded to them by impressing against the Pacific Island nations, leaving Ennor down the national pecking order as the All Blacks set off for Australia for this year’s Rugby Championship.

As a result, he was confined to just one appearance off the bench in New Zealand’s 36-13 win over Los Pumas in Brisbane – his first test in 26 months – and had to wait another five weeks before taking to the field again.

That came in the All Blacks’ 104-14 demolition of the USA Eagles in Washington DC a fortnight ago, when he made his first test start in the midfield alongside Tupaea.

His performance in that match, and Foster’s desire to rest and rotate his squad ahead of the major season-ending tests against Ireland and France over the next two weeks, has enabled Ennor to start a second test on this end-of-year tour.

This time, the opposition is Italy at Stadio Olimico in Rome, and the lead-up to the clash against the Six Nations minnows on Sunday [NZT] has handed Ennor a chance to reflect on his journey back to the All Blacks after two poorly-timed injuries.

Both setbacks had significant physical and mental tolls on Ennor, who had already suffered a ruptured ACL on his other knee during his time at St Kentigern College in Auckland.

“It was frustrating, especially [because] I’ve done my ACL on my other knee back in school and then do the other one and just as I’m getting back into it, my appendix ruptures on me,” Ennor told reporters from Rome on Friday [NZT].

“It’s just all about keeping a clear mind and focussing on where you want to end up.

“There were times where I felt pretty awful about myself, lost a lot of weight and that sort of thing, not being able to eat properly and all those sorts of things for my appendix.

“But just kept my mind on where I wanted to end up, and that was here with the All Blacks, so pretty grateful to where I’ve ended up.”

Ennor was perhaps fortunate that he had a confidant in the form of Canterbury, Crusaders and All Blacks teammate George Bridge, who was ruled out of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman due to appendicitis.

The support of Bridge and the Crusaders’ medical staff – one of whom was also a victim of the same condition heading into the season – helped ease Ennor’s rehabilitation process.

“Funnily enough, George Bridge had the exact same [problem] as I had a couple months prior and in fact, our Crusaders team doctor had it a couple of month earlier as well,” Ennor said.

“So there was actually a set-out process of how I was going to return, so that was pretty easy.”

Now injury-free, Ennor has the chance to prove his credentials in his fourth test as an All Black against the Italians, who he will face with Tupaea in tandem in New Zealand’s midfield.

The pair represent some of the best young talent in New Zealand’s backline stocks, and Ennor said both he and Tupaea are eager to let rip after limited game time in recent seasons.

“Any opportunity in the black jersey is pretty special,” he said.

“Guys like Quinn and myself haven’t had a run for a while and [we] get this time to show what we’ve got so we’re pretty keen and excited and, like I said, the black jersey’s pretty special too so to be bale to pull that on this week is pretty exciting.”

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