Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Slade and Toeava face long road to recovery

Colin Slade broke his leg against the Brumbies. Photo / Getty Images
Colin Slade broke his leg against the Brumbies. Photo / Getty Images

Of all the things Colin Slade and Isaia Toeava would like to be, poster boys for bad luck is not on the list.

But that is what the truly unfortunate Slade and Toeava have become after the former broke his ankle last week to be ruled out for the rest of the season and Toeava learned he'd need yet more surgery on his chronically painful hip.

Both young men now face considerable battles to resume their careers in the top flight. Slade is expected to make a full physical recovery; his challenge will be rebuilding his confidence, finding his form and trying to resurrect his game after missing most of 2011 and nearly all of 2012.

His broken ankle follows the groin tear that ended his World Cup early - a tournament he only just made after successive broken jaws in 2011.

Ali Williams was fairly unlucky to miss much of 2009 with a damaged Achilles only to then rupture it again a few minutes into his first pre-season outing of 2010.

He missed a season and a half, a bit like his former locking partner Keith Robinson whose back kept him out of action for two years between 2004 and late 2006 before he recovered to reclaim a World Cup spot with the All Blacks.

But Slade is a first five, still only 24 and he's suffered three major bone breaks in barely 12 months. That's just cruel and horribly unlucky.

Both Williams and Robinson were at an age where their bodies had taken a serious pounding for years. They were victims of their sustained physicality.

Slade is a victim of nothing more than fate and, perhaps it's unfair, but who can help wondering what his future now holds? He never looked quite there in 2011 as a consequence of missing Super Rugby.

Prior to the Brumbies fixture last weekend he was again looking like a man well short of his best. His running wasn't sharp, his decision-making patchy and his confidence was clearly low.

Game time is everything to a first five and even Dan Carter, the King of world rugby, admitted that he found it a struggle returning after six months out.

"I was really excited to be back playing in front of our home crowd in Christchurch but there were a few nerves that crept in as well because I hadn't played for so long and I was quite under-prepared," he said.

It will be a long, hard road back for Slade. Even finding his feet again at Super Rugby is going to be a massive challenge.

By the time he is ready to play again in 2013, he'll have effectively missed two years of rugby and that dulls the instincts of even the best.

Similar questions have to be asked of Toeava, who has been battling a hip problem for the last few years and has had surgery as well as conservative management through prolonged rest.

He was in pain during the World Cup, only managing to play after taking painkillers.

A scan two weeks ago revealed he faces more surgery and a six-month absence. His bad luck has been delivered by genetics and choice of career.

"If Isaia had a sedentary job then his hip wouldn't be a problem at all," said Blues doctor Stephen Kara. "But he's a rugby player ..."

The great unknown is whether surgery will be successful. Toeava has offers to play in Japan - but they are on hold until there is more certainty around his prognosis.

- Herald on Sunday

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