Anthony Boric. Photo Getty
Anthony Boric's unscheduled sabbatical, during which he
had surgery on his neck, worked at a "real job" and visited the
site of his family's Croatian origins, has inspired him in his
return to rugby.
The World Cup-winning All Black is training with a young
Blues squad in which 62 games make him the fourth most
experienced Super Rugby player behind Keven Mealamu, new
captain Ali Williams and Piri Weepu. Boric's last game was
against the Bulls 10 months ago.
New Blues coach Sir John Kirwan says if Boric proves his
fitness, he'll give him a mandate to help lead the team: "I
don't want to put any pressure on Anthony; he's a fantastic
Blues man who has come through a big injury. He's shown
incredible courage and is on target, but I want to make sure
when he comes back, he's back to stay.
''We planned to be without him. We've got five locks
[Williams, Liaki Moli, Ronald Raaymakers and Culum Retallick
are the others]; we did that on purpose because we weren't
sure when AB would be ready."
Boric acknowledges the extra responsibility as a senior
player: "I don't really feel 29, but looking around and
seeing younger guys makes you feel older. It is important for
me to lead by example and bring a bit of my experience to
light. First of all, I want to get through a full contact
training, make a few tackles and play a game."
Friday's training in the sun at Unitec took its toll. Vats of
cold sports drinks were supped after players sweltered
through defence training and shuttle runs. However, as
thirsts were quenched, a glance to the lower field revealed
Boric's 2m frame engaged in a tackle session with flanker
Brendon O'Connor. The emphasis was on finding the optimum
head placement and body position for Boric's neck. The
determination of the 24-test All Black was clear.
"I'm feeling pretty good now, almost five months since the
surgery, and I'm gradually building into the contact work. I
now need to get involved in some tackles and scrum training,
basically things that can potentially niggle it."
Before treating the bulging disc around his C5 and C6
vertebrae, Boric consulted former professionals Olo Brown,
Derren Witcombe and Dave Gibson, who had been similarly
afflicted. Boric chose disc replacement surgery over fusing
"I'm the only one in the country who has had that done but a
couple of English players went through it. The fusion option
makes sure it all comes together and is rock solid. They take
bone from your hip, put it all in and lock it in place. The
problem is it can put pressure on the discs either side. A
replacement should work like a normal disc."
Boric's time away from rugby gave him perspective on the
rigours of a rugby-playing life: "To be honest, I wouldn't
say I was desperate to return. I weighed up whether it was
worth throwing in the towel. The main reason I had surgery
was to feel confident that I have got a good neck and
wouldn't have any pain going forward."
In the down time Boric pursued the engineering career he put
on hold for rugby.
"I enjoyed a couple of months at project management and
construction companies. I worked on sites building
warehouses, sat in an office doing quantity surveying and
oversaw some structural designs.
"It was rewarding being involved in a real job and seeing the
practical results rather than being at university studying
Boric also seized the chance to take a rare winter holiday,
something the New Zealand rugby season usually makes
impossible. The highlight was Croatia, the home from which
his family emigrated before setting up their 85-acre orchard
at Kumeu in 1942.
"I have family in a small town halfway between Split and
Dubrovnik and on the island of Hvar [in the Adriatic Sea]. It
was nice to visit my relatives, they turn it on - I was
definitely well fed. Hvar was probably my favourite spot. I
did a cruise for a week with a few mates. Being out in the
islands jumping off a boat and swimming for hours was so
"With rugby, you travel a lot but you've always got a
schedule to keep. Over there, I could chill out for a while."
- Andrew Alderson