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'It was the hardest time of my life': Crusaders coach reveals harrowing COVID-19 battle

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(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan has opened up about his COVID-19 ordeal after he caught the virus during last year’s tour to Europe with Fiji.


Based out of Limoges in France as part of the Fijian coaching staff for their Autumn Nations Cup campaign last November, Ryan was caught in the thick of the COVID-19 outbreak that left 29 of the 42-man touring party with positive tests.

Ryan was among those that contracted the virus, and, while speaking to Star News, has described his recovery battle as “the hardest time of his life”.

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Despite there being “no problem” in the initial few days following his diagnosis, the symptoms of the virus, which has taken the lives of more than two million people to date, eventually hit Ryan hard.

“On the fourth day it just hit me, it dropped me. It was tough. I went through the process you read about. You lose your taste and smell,” he told Star News.

A deterioration of his breathing proved to be a frightening experience for the 45-year-old, who was taken into hospital for a heart scan.

The results were clear, but that did nothing to ease Ryan’s “aching and sweating” as it felt like his body was “shutting down”.


“It was like someone was standing on your chest. Imagine you go for a big run, then someone stands on your chest and you’ve got to breathe. I could only breathe about a quarter of the way in.

“It’s hard to explain. It was the hardest time of my life, and the hardest part was FaceTiming family at home.”

Face-to-face calls with family back home in New Zealand ceased as he fought his way back to full health, with Ryan unwilling to let his wife and children see him in the state he was in.


However, reassurances from medical staff that he would return to normal in matter of days eventually proved true, as he and the entire Fijian squad bounced back to beat Georgia 38-24 at Murrayfield in Edinburgh – the only match they played on tour after forfeiting to France, Italy and Scotland.

“We went through some tough times together. We wanted to have a great week (before Georgia) and we did. I’m sure some resilience genes grew over that time,” Ryan said of his side’s win in Scotland.

Now back in New Zealand after a two-week quarantine period just before Christmas, Ryan is back in Christchurch for pre-season training with the Crusaders as he looks to help guide the franchise to a fifth straight title this year.

Having signed a deal with Fiji that will see him stay on with the Pacific Island nation through until the 2023 World Cup in France, Ryan is simply relieved to be fit and healthy and back on home turf.

“I’m just so grateful,” he told the Star News. “That was my 2020 word: Grateful.”


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