Relief at player's positive recovery

Southland rugby captain Jamie Mackintosh shared a laugh with Hoani Macdonald during the bus ride to Saturday's championship semifinal against Counties Manukau, then watched him get stretchered off during the first half, oblivious to just how sick his good friend was.

Macdonald had been struck down midway through the first half with cardiac arrest, coming close to death before he was stabilised, moved to Auckland's Middlemore Hospital and put in an induced coma.

The Stags veteran's recovery has been positive this week. He has been up and talking, and yesterday underwent surgery to implant a device that detects and corrects cardiac arrhythmia.

The procedure is considered a precaution. Tests done during the week found no long-term damage to Macdonald's heart.

That news has come as a welcome relief for the team- mates of Macdonald, who is known in rugby circles as "Hoon".

Mackintosh said he was unaware of the seriousness of the situation until after the game.

Only the team management and the players on the bench had an idea of just how bad things were, with Mackintosh believing Macdonald was suffering some sort of concussion or shoulder injury.

"When you hear that one of your mates isn't that good, you think that it's a neck injury, a bad concussion or a dislocated shoulder. Not once does it go through your mind that your mate is in a life-threatening way," Mackintosh said.

"To hear after the game what sort of condition Hoony was in was pretty scary and pretty emotional. Now that the week has pushed on a bit we are just absolutely rapt that he's made the recovery that he has and we wish him the best for what he's going through."

Mackintosh, along with team mates Jason Rutledge, Josh Bekhuis and Brayden Mitchell, visited Macdonald's bedside on Saturday night.

Seeing the 1.97m, 111kg second rower laid low was a difficult experience," Mackintosh said. "That wasn't much fun. It came as a bit of a shock to see him in that condition, but [the induced coma] was for the best."

Mackintosh commended the way Stags management has dealt with the situation, from the way they shielded the players from the situation during the game, to manager Glenn Morrison providing information on Macdonald's situation this week.

The New Zealand Rugby Union and, in particular, Rob Nicol, of the Rugby Players' Association, had moved swiftly to put a support network around Macdonald and his young family, Mackintosh said.

The Stags had also decided to cancel their end-of-season trip until a time when they are confident Macdonald is on the right track, Mackintosh said.

As well as more than 60 games for Southland, Macdonald has played in Wales and Melbourne, with the Highlanders, New Zealand Juniors and New Zealand Maori. Messages had come in from around the world.

Mackintosh said Macdonald had been a role model since coming back into the Stags environment in the past two years and was a joy to have in the team. "He's a lot of fun to be around and he's really good with all the younger guys, he can relate to anyone."

More than anything, Macdonald's team-mates want to see him come home and get on with his life.

"It will be great to see him and reflect," Mackintosh said. "Everyone just wants to see him fit and healthy . . . because he's got a young family and he wants to live a long time, and play touch with his boys. At the end of the day that's all that matters."

The Southland Times