Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan has revealed how he feared for the worst after being rushed to a French hospital with Covid-19 complications.
Ryan, the forwards coach of the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions, contracted the virus during a stint as assistant coach of the Fijian national team late last year.
The Fijians were due to play France in an Autumn Nations Cup test in Vannes in November last year, before a coronavirus outbreak saw 29 members of the touring party infected at the team base in Limoges.
Ryan, who joined the Crusaders in 2016, was one of those.
In an interview with Star News, Ryan says he tested positive for Covid-19 on November 15 - just two weeks after joining Vern Cotter's Fiji squad for the eight-team Autumn Nations Cup.
At first, he wasn't concerned - but his health quickly worsened.
"I felt fine, no problem. For the next couple of days I was training with coaches, we were getting on with it, we were training from a distance, isolated and doing everything right," Ryan told Star News.
"On the fourth day it just hit me, it dropped me. It was tough. I went through the process you read about. You lose your taste and smell."
The 45-year-old former front-rower's breathing deteriorated to such an extent that he was rushed to hospital for a heart scan.
"I said 'Doc, there's a couple of numbers here if I'm no good'."
Back at the hotel, Ryan was constantly monitored by the squad's two doctors.
"I was aching and sweating at night. I felt like my body was shutting down. It was like someone was standing on your chest. Imagine you go for a big run, then someone stands on your chest and you've got to breathe. I could only breathe about a quarter of the way in," he told Star News.
"It's hard to explain. It was the hardest time of my life, and the hardest part was face timing family at home.
"After a couple of days I thought 's***, I've come back now, I'm breathing."
Back in New Zealand, Ryan spent a fortnight in managed isolation before reuniting with wife Cath and kids Olly and Emma days before Christmas.
He is currently helping the Crusaders prepare for the coming season in Christchurch.
"It was unreal, Cath was unbelievable when I was away. It reiterates the importance of family and your support network," he said.
"[The kids] knew what was going on but Cath [released] the information quite well I think. Mum and dad knew I was pretty sick too, but they probably didn't know how sick.
"I'm just so grateful. That was my 2020 word: Grateful."