Rugby: Boric contemplated retirement

Anthony Boric. Photo by Getty
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 retirement.

"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 not.

"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 "real world".

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 Blues.

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 Retallick.

"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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