Brad Shields has revealed the extent of the knee injury that provided a painful end to a dream season for the Hurricanes loose forward.
It's been five months since the 21-year-old limped off Westpac Stadium after a thrilling last gasp 28-25 win over the Chiefs.
Shields' sore leg seemed innocuous, and was hardly discussed after the match by his coaches, but he was soon to receive the first big setback of his budding career.
Scans revealed a large chunk of cartilage had been dislodged, meaning major surgery and a six-month rehabilitation period.
It was a shock, his first serious injury and first surgery, but received little coverage as the Hurricanes' Super Rugby season ended.
So what exactly did happen that night in July? Why wasn't a serious injury immediately obvious? And what is the long and short term prognosis?
"I thought it was good to go once it calmed down on the field, but once I bent my leg and tried to push off it was a no-go," Shields said this week, explaining scans a few days later revealed the messy aftermath.
"Basically when I twisted my knee in, my knee cap popped out, and as it popped out a bit of bone chipped a bit of cartilage off my knee cap and it kind of ended up floating in my leg.
"They were going to take it out and sew it back on where the gap was, but it was too munted, so they had to pull it out."
Although the rehabilitation period is similar to a knee reconstruction, the good news for Shields was his ligaments remained intact.
"I was pretty lucky and that's what they [the specialists] were surprised about because it's quite an unusual injury," he said.
"It's just a big hunk of cartilage that got chipped out."
Naturally, he took the initial prognosis pretty hard, retreating to his parents home in Masterton.
The NPC played out without him and his hopes of forcing his way on to the All Blacks' end of year tour went up in smoke.
But it didn't take long for Shields to see things in a more positive light as he reflected on a year that saw him burst on to the Super Rugby scene and into the All Blacks' wider training squad.
"It was a bit of a reality check. They always say rugby isn't going to last forever... but I guess something like this is going to happen once and at this stage it's looking good that I'll come back 100 per cent," he said.
In fact he's been told the chances of a recurrence are about five per cent provided he restores the strength in his leg.
And that's his sole focus as the Hurricanes' pre-season training cranks into gear.
"The first three or four months was really about staying off it. At four months I was able to start running, so the fitness is there, but I can't do any leg strengthening stuff till January," he said.
With the Hurricanes' first match against the Blues on February 23 it will be touch and go for kick-off, but what's already clear is that Shields will be fully fit and fizzing when he makes his return.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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