Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Power and strength returning for Tuipulotu

Patrick Tuipulotu is battling his way back to full health for the Blues. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Patrick Tuipulotu is battling his way back to full health for the Blues. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Double hip surgery on giant Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu last year succeeded where many opponents have failed since he barged his way into Super Rugby in 2014.

That is, it sent him flat on to his back, a position he found himself for about two months as he began his painstakingly slow and tedious rehabilitation on two operations which ruled him out of last year's World Cup.

Tuipulotu, one of the strongest players in Tana Umaga's squad, estimated that he spent 95 per cent of each day in bed as he recovered from the surgery, a difficult thing for anyone to put up with, let alone a 23-year-old professional athlete. He said he spent a lot of time sleeping.

His exercise was limited to three 10-minute rides on a stationary bike per day.

"I put on about 8kg," he said. "That's gone off quite quickly - quicker than I thought."

Coach Umaga this week said all of his men were looking forward to playing their first pre-season match of the year against the Rebels in Pakuranga last night but few greeted the match with as much excitement as Tuipulotu, who played all seven of his tests in 2014.

"I'm getting there," he said of his fitness. "I'm probably 10 per cent off where I should be. It's good considering the shape I was in coming into pre-season. There has been good progress made, especially with the hips in terms of running. It's comfortable striding out."

Tuipulotu's problems began early last season. In essence, his hip issues made it painful to stride out and, after his last game of the season against the Highlanders in June, he couldn't run at all.

It was incredibly disappointing for the man who had taken the competition by storm in 2014, his debut year, a season in which he dominated his more experienced tight-forward opponents, especially in the contact areas, where his 120kg, 1.98m frame, combined with impressive footwork and ball skills, made him such a difficult player to stop.

Once a developmental hip problem - rather than groin strains as first thought - was diagnosed, two operations in June shaved a piece of bone off his right hip and some cartilage off his left one.

He was running again at the end of October and now is poised to explode back on to the scene.

He recently won an "Olympic powerlifting" competition at the Blues, beating Steven Luatua with a combined snatch and power clean total of 235kg, and has been reassured by how easy it is to run now that the hip/groin restrictions have gone.

"I always knew that as a young and fit person the healing process would be quicker than for someone older," he said. "I'm really pleased with it. There were times when I thought I would struggle - especially getting back into contact - and back into running. The start of pre-season was a case of trial and error for me.

"The worst bit was before the surgery - finding out that I would have to rule myself out of the World Cup. That was the biggest thing. After thinking about it and knowing it would help my career, the surgery was all good."

- NZ Herald

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