The initial diagnosis for Nepo Laulala early last year was that he would never play again after snapping three ligaments in his knee and ripping his quadricep off the bone.

To make matters worse, it was an injury inflicted by friendly fire - one of his teammates doing it ahead of a Super Rugby warm-up game when the team were supposed to be operating at 50 per cent intensity.

Laulala was just 25 and facing the prospect of his career being over. With two test caps to his credit and a decent run at the Crusaders behind him, he would at least be able to sign out having made some kind of footprint.

But he had no interest in taking his doctor seriously. As much as Laulala could accept the injury was bad, horrific even, it wasn't going to be career-ending. He wasn't going to let a needless training collision be the story he would have to tell to generations of Laulalas to come.


"It was a massive injury and I think it was the worst he had ever seen - which is not really the thing you want to hear from your doctor," says Laulala.

"I wanted to prove that I could make it back and prove the doctor wrong. I was really angry with him and after that I never saw him again.

It played a really big role in me getting back. Part of our role is that we always get a lot of negativity - it is part of our lives to prove people wrong in this career and it is important that we stay strong and don't believe everything you hear."

That defiant spirit is a big part of what the All Blacks coaches have come to admire about Laulala this year.

He's a player who will stay in the fight - find a way to deal with whatever is thrown at him and such resilience is a necessity for a man asked to anchor the All Blacks' scrum.

The front-row is, as much as the modern game can be, a lawless state where nominally the referee has jurisdiction but practically it is a sort it out yourselves world.

Lualala has proven himself to be admirably resourceful when it comes to scrummaging and much of the tenacity he has shown can be traced back to his ordeal in overcoming his injury.

The road to recovery was long and arduous for Laulala. At 125kg, it's not easy rebuilding a knee to the point where it can hold that sort of weight and deal with the stresses it would be put through as part of belonging to a professional tighthead prop.

And the challenge to recover his career wasn't purely physical. If anything, the more demanding part was adjusting mentally. He came to see that he needed to simplify his thinking, cherish the opportunity he had, be strong enough to be himself and above all else be grateful.

Gratitude is a virtue that binds the best athletes and by finding it, Laulala has been able to not only wing back his career, but return to the All Blacks for whom he briefly played in 2015 as a genuine long-term prospect.

"I wasn't really myself when I first came in," he says. "I felt like I had to try to do too much and was trying to impress the coaches. It [Injury] has helped me realise that I don't need to over do stuff. I just need to be myself and that way I can see what I need to work on.

"It was really tough as I actually never thought I'd get back here and it didn't help that my doctor told me that he didn't think I would ever play again. It was a tough road and it was very humbling and it made me mature and I looked at it as restarting my career. I tried to change a lot of things that I used to do."

* Gregor Paul travelled to Paris courtesy of Air New Zealand.