Former All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson is primed to make his 100th Super Rugby appearance this weekend after being named on the bench for the Chiefs ahead of their Super Rugby Aotearoa clash with the Blues in Auckland on Sunday.
Should the 38-year-old make it onto the field at Eden Park, it will be good reward for a player whose career looked in severe jeopardy two-and-a-half years ago.
While plying his trade in Japan with the NEC Green Rockets in the Top League, Thomson was hospitalised with lumbar discitis, a painful infection of the invertebral disc space, in late 2017.
For 57 days, the 29-test All Black was bed-ridden in a Tokyo hospital, learning how to walk again with his playing future in serious doubt.
That was until last year, however, when he returned to the rugby field at an amateur level for North Harbour club side Takapuna, before going on to sign a Mitre 10 Cup deal with his former province Otago for the 2019 campaign.
Thomson’s presence in the national provincial championship marked a comeback of significant proportions that only became more remarkable when he signed with the Chiefs during the Super Rugby pre-season as an injury replacement player.
Since then, the 2011 World Cup winner has made four outings for the Chiefs, making his debut for the franchise against the Sunwolves back in Tokyo five months ago.
Now, he is on the cusp of making his 100th appearance in Super Rugby, 14 years after debuting in the competition for the Highlanders, which preceded brief stints with the Reds and Rebels in Australia.
“It’s pretty crazy, I let this dream go a while ago, so to do it at this age with a team like the Chiefs is pretty special and I am very much looking forward to it,” Thomson said.
“The extra edge is coming back from the major illness and being able to have the opportunity of coming back and starting at club level scrapping my way through Mitre 10 Cup and then returning to Super.
“I would not have believed it a couple of years back, but I am just grateful to be playing at this level.
“Every day for me is a bonus and this is a great environment to be in and however I can contribute whether that is playing or off the field that is what I will do.”
Thomson will be hoping to mark his milestone outing with a victory, something the Chiefs haven’t yet been able to do in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Pressure has subsequently mounted on head coach Warren Gatland, but that hasn’t forced him into making a raft of changes leading into his side’s bout with their northern rivals.
Despite blowing a two 24-point leads against the Highlanders in Hamilton last week, Gatland has made just three changes to his team, with the only alteration in the starting side coming at loosehead prop.
2018 All Blacks tourist Reuben O’Neill comes into the team for just his ninth appearance for the franchise, replacing Aidan Ross, who picked up at calf strain in the 33-31 defeat at FMG Stadium Waikato last week.
The other two changes are in the reserves, with young prop Ollie Norris vacating O’Neill’s place on the bench, while three-test All Blacks halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi makes way for Lisati Milo-Harris in the No. 21 jersey.
“Last weekend we had the opportunity to finish the job off, but as we have seen in this competition you need to deliver an 80-minute performance, or longer in some instances and we didn’t do that,” Gatland said in a team naming press release.
“This week we are looking for that consistency, starting strong once again and then continuing to stay in the game and maintain our focus on what we can control.”
1. Reuben O’Neill
2. Bradley Slater
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Tupou Vaa’i
5. Mitchell Brown
6. Lachlan Boshier
7. Sam Cane ©
8. Pita Gus Sowakula
9. Brad Weber
10. Kaleb Trask
11. Solomon Alaimalo
12. Alex Nankivell
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
14. Sean Wainui
15. Damian McKenzie
16. Samisoni Taukei’aho
17. Ollie Norris
18. Ross Geldenhuys
19. Adam Thomson
20. Mitchell Karpik
21. Lisati Milo-Harris
22. Aaron Cruden
23. Quinn Tupaea
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