Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow ate his first steak in over five weeks on Monday night and in a way it was as much a cause for celebration as his return to the Chiefs this week.
Kerr-Barlow broke his jaw in the March 22 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders in Hamilton and has not played in the six weeks since.
The young All Black's x-factor presence and standout defence has been missed despite the Chiefs being fortunate to have halfbacks of the calibre of Brendon Leonard and August Pulu to call on.
"You can't imagine mate [how excited I am to be able to play again]," Kerr-Barlow said.
"I was excited just to be able to eat proper food again."
In fact the food factor has been a big one for Kerr-Barlow as he was restricted to a liquid diet for the first four weeks of the injury.
"I had my first steak last night. Pete from the club across here was kind enough to give me some really soft meat which was a blessing for me."
Kerr-Barlow still has to be careful what and how he eats with his jaw still a little tender because of the thin metal plates that were inserted in it but it is nothing compared to his first month.
He survived on a diet of pumpkin and chicken soup and mashed chicken during that four weeks and his weight plummeted from 90kg to 85kg.
Once he was able to chew soft foods again he progressed to the likes of mince and mashed potatoes and was able to start putting weight on again.
It took an initial toll on his ability to train but Kerr-Barlow has spent most of the break training the house down and comes back to the Chiefs this week in peak physical condition.
"The first couple of weeks I didn't have much energy but after that I was able to get into a bit of training, both upper body and lower body."
Although he travelled to Melbourne last week with the team, on standby for reserve winger Patrick Osborne, he did not get to play and instead the highlight for him was meeting up with his mother Gail who had travelled down from Darwin.
"Today was my first full training [with the team] although we didn't do that much contact.
"I've become pretty familiar with the rower, but it was a good chance to work on my speed and get my hammy right, which was niggling me since ITM Cup last year.
"I'm raring to go and it will be good to get out there this week and have a run whether it's at club or off the bench or whatever."
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said Kerr-Barlow brought several assets to the team.
"He's obviously a very good halfback, but especially defensively he is massive for us," Rennie said.
"He's really demanding, he organises people around him, he jumps in and fills holes and is really aggressive so he creates a lot of turnovers for us as well and covers really well in behind.
"From an attack point of view he is fit as, he gets in, he's physical, is prepared to challenge and has a good distribution game so he's a good halfback and it's really good from our point of view to have him back."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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