Comeback king Lazarus flies in for Sevens

COMEBACK KING: Hoani "Lazarus" Macdonald has returned to rugby - but strictly in a coaching capacity.
COMEBACK KING: Hoani "Lazarus" Macdonald has returned to rugby - but strictly in a coaching capacity.

A rugby player who almost died during a match last October is in Wellington preparing for the Hertz Wellington Sevens in the most comfortable costume of all.

Hoani Macdonald, who collapsed during an NPC match at Pukekohe Stadium last October while playing for the Southland Stags, plans to attend the Sevens dressed as himself.   

Comeback king Macdonald, affectionately now known as ''Lazarus'' in rugby circles, was spotted today at Evans Bay Park in a Sevens coaching capacity.

He flew to Wellington from Invercargill earlier this week as coach of the Invercargill Marist rugby sevens team.

As he contemplated returning to a big-time rugby environment for the first time since his heart stopped beating last October the one-time second rower stoically said:

''I feel kinda lucky talking to you today. It's great to be back, in Wellington this weekend.''

His heart stopped and he "flatlined" during the NPC match for the Southland Stags against Counties at Pukekohe last October. 

He has been under intense medical scrutiny since. 

On Monday the former professional rugby player re-enters the workforce in a fulltime marketing and coaching role for Rugby Southland. 

"I am feeling really good. The doctors have told me to go live life as normal. They've said don't let anything change. If it happens again they've inserted something in my chest to help me out.

''They've told me there is no damage to my heart, arteries or brain,'' Macdonald said.

Recalling the incident at the Pukekohe Stadium medical experts had told him his heart was beating at 300 beats a minute "before everything kind of stopped".  

''Fortunately when I flatlined they got the paddles out and gave me a couple of shots.''

Since the incident a cardioverter-defibrillator had been implanted by surgeons in his chest.

''If it happens again that will kick in.''

He is still not allowed to drive, and there is no way he will ever play rugby again.

''I can't drive for another three months. That's pretty good at the moment because the weather down in Southland is unbelievably hot.

''The bike is getting a good workout," Macdonald said.

The incident put an end to his rugby career and for that his partner, Michelle Notman, is happy. 

Her 34-year-old partner now has a second chance at life with his family away from the professional rugby playing fields he graced in Wales, Australia and New Zealand. ''I'm out of contact sports but they've told me I can still play basketball. I've played basketball all my life.

''I think you'll see me on the golf course as well,'' Macdonald said.

NZ Marist Sevens tournament organiser Tony Meachen spoke for all rugby people when he said:

''It's great to see Lazarus make his way back to the playing fields of Wellington this weekend.''

20 Marist teams from throughout New Zealand are also competing in a nationwide Marist Sevens tournament at Evans Bay this weekend.

Contact Tim Donoghue
General reporter

The Dominion Post