Tawera Kerr-Barlow, pictured just days before he suffered a horrific leg injury in Johannesburg last year, has played 15 tests for the All Blacks.
Almost 11 months have passed since All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow was told there was no chance of him being declared fit before the start of the World Cup.
Kerr-Barlow had mangled his leg so badly against the Springboks on October 4 that a doctor at a Johannesburg hospital looked at the scans and determined it would take 12 months to recover from the dreadful injuries.
Watching replays of the moment Kerr-Barlow tore his hamstring from the bone and ruptured his anterior cruciate and lateral ligaments in his knee, was enough to make some sensitive souls jam their knuckles in their mouths and squeeze their eyes shut tight.
Kerr-Barlow, who had replaced halfback Aaron Smith late in the test at Ellis Park, had taken a kick-off and attempted a clearing kick when Springboks wing JP Pietersen clattered into him: “I kind of wrapped my leg around his knee and it went ‘snap’,” Kerr-Barlow recollected.
What happened next could enter rugby folklore. Rather than exit the field, Kerr-Barlow instructed team physiotherapist Peter Gallagher to bandage his knee so he could keep playing. He did just that for several minutes, limping around the park and effecting a tackle with the assistance of skipper Richie McCaw before being replaced by Colin Slade.
“Initially it was very sore, and then I got up and tried to give it a wiggle,” Kerr-Barlow, 25, said. “I wanted to try and keep going if I could. I just told Pete to strap me up and watch how I go.
“I said ‘if I can’t run properly, hook me so I don’t become a liability’.”
The moment he retired from the action, he knew he was in deep trouble.
“I just wanted to get to the hospital to get the scans and find out how bad it was. Initially one of the doctors there said I was going to be out for 12 months, and that was pretty awful.
“Then the doc (All Blacks doctor Tony Page) said it would be eight to nine. Then I thought ‘I just want to get back to New Zealand so I can start my rehab’.”
Surgery was imminent and Kerr-Barlow was full of praise for Auckland surgeon Mike Rosenfeldt for putting his leg, and rugby career, back together.
The 15-test All Black required a knee reconstruction and his hamstring was reattached by using a part of his other hamstring.
Then began the slow journey back to full fitness. He spent a month lying on his couch and struggled to keep pace with his baby daughter Zulay.
“I couldn’t catch her for a bit, she was crawling around home and I had my aunties around home helping out. I reconnected with a lot of my school mates as well. We were always had a pretty tight group and their support was amazing.”
Eight months after he hobbled off Ellis Park, Kerr-Barlow was back playing for Hautapu in the Waikato premier club competition. Fittingly, Rosenfeldt was there to watch.
Kerr-Barlow continued to build his match fitness with the NZ Maori side and Waikato, and on Sunday night was named as the third halfback in the 31-man All Blacks squad to travel to the World Cup in England.
It was team manager Darren Shand who delivered the news to say he would be joining TJ Perenara and Smith in the squad.
“I didn’t sleep too well, as you could imagine, and Shandy ended up calling me,” Kerr-Barlow said. “He said g’day and I said g’day and I just wanted him to get it out of his mouth. He just gave me the good news and I was over the moon. It has been a massive year.”