Anthony Boric. Photo by Getty
Anthony Boric joked that he will ask one of the halfbacks
rather than any bigger specimen to run at him on the first day
of contact work at Blues training.
While it received a generous laugh at the Blues squad
announcement earlier this week, Boric's chances of doing even
that looked slim earlier this year as the All Blacks lock
battled with a career-threatening neck injury.
It's something that flared in his second test against England
in 2008 and, after settling down, returned in a pre-season
game earlier this year against the Bulls. His last game of
rugby was a Super Rugby fixture against the same opposition
in early March.
Boric initially hoped the injury would settle with rest but
surgery - something he hoped to avoid - loomed as the only
realistic option to ensure he got back on the pitch. Even
then, there were no guarantees and Boric contemplated
"It was a matter of deciding what to do," he says. "I needed
to have the surgery if I wanted to play again. To be honest,
for a while, I needed to decide if it was really worth it or
"I decided to get the surgery just so I could get my neck
strong so I wouldn't have to worry about it in general
day-to-day life. I'm happy with the decision now. It's
feeling good. It was kind of tough when you think you are
going to play for five or more years and suddenly it can end
just like that."
Like many confronted with this sort of dilemma, it has given
Boric a new appreciation of life and rugby. He was already
well on the way to preparing for life after rugby - he's four
papers short of completing an engineering degree - but he
made the most of the break to find out what it's like in the
It turns out he quite likes it. He worked for a handful of
engineering firms and also went travelling.
"It's actually been quite good," he says. "I got a chance to
go to Europe in their summer. Those are the things you miss
out on. You get to travel and tour with rugby but it's never
the same as being out there doing it yourself.
"While it's been frustrating not playing, it's been kind of
cool to get away from it. I haven't watched much rugby and
I've done a bit of work, experienced the real world. It's
been quite refreshing. Hopefully, potentially, it will be a
good thing for me to come back refreshed in both body and
mind. As long as the neck holds up, who knows?"
That's the key indeterminate. Boric had surgery to replace a
bulging disc around his C5 and C6 vertebrae and was told it
should hold up.
"It should be as good as it was, if I do everything right.
There's a bit of metal in there now, where the disk was, so
it should be stronger than the old one."
Next season will be an important one for Boric on many
levels. At 28, he has lost a lot of ground at the top level
and he will need to assert himself quickly over a handful of
younger models like Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Craig
Clarke and Dominic Bird emerging on the scene.
Rugby at the top level is unforgiving, particularly on locks
who are required to shift bodies with considerable vigour in
the modern game. Serious neck injuries can encumber this, or
more especially the willingness of the mind.
Returning to the All Blacks to add to his 24 tests might be
the goal but that will only come through playing well for the
New coach Sir John Kirwan has assembled a young and extremely
inexperienced squad but lock is an exception with Boric
joined by veteran Ali Williams, Liaki Moli and Culum
"It's an an extremely young outfit and makes you feel old,"
Boric says ruefully. "But it's exciting. These guys have
performed really well in the ITM Cup and they are going to
have to step up.
"A fresh start brings excitment. Hopefully the public won't
expect too much out of us because, with no added pressure, we
could do a few pretty cool things."
Boric is trying not to put too much pressure on himself,
either. That's why he will start with tackling a halfback.
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