World Cup-winning All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo has ended his 14-month injury nightmare by returning to the London Irish squad after defying suggestions he would have to call time on his career. The 29-year-old back, who was part of Steven Hansen’s all-conquering squad in 2015, underwent knee surgery a year ago.

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Having last played for London Irish in their February 2020 Gallagher Premiership match versus Harlequins, the delay in Naholo’s return to fitness sparked speculation about his ability to regain the form that had made him such a devastating attacker.

However, Irish boss Declan Kidney has now revealed that Naholo played one half of a recent A-team game against Wasps and is now on course to help the Exiles bid to retain their top-six place in the Gallagher Premiership and qualify for the Heineken Cup next season.

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Naholo, who scored a remarkable 16 tries in just 26 Test matches for the All Blacks, has been helping the young Irish back three players while he has been finishing his rehabilitation.

Kidney said: “If somebody was to write a book about rehabbing (an injury) I would be interested in his. Sometimes when you see a player on the pitch it comes down to talent but professionalism is about how you go about your job and stick to the task. The way he has gone about his would show any player the way back and it hasn’t been easy for him – but I haven’t heard a word of complaint out of him.

“It was a case of getting it right and he has worked as diligently as anyone I have met. You don’t ever want to see a player in that position. In adversity, you see the best of people and I cannot speak highly enough of him. He never dragged his arse about the place or felt sorry for himself, never acted the victim. He is not a guy to steal the limelight and he has helped the back three in training.

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“It will be a little bit longer but the A-game was a stepping stone that we didn’t advertise and it was great to see him back out on the pitch – but we have a duty of care. We have to make sure we don’t overextend him after such a long period out. He was the most senior player in the game.”

 

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