WELLINGTON, April 16 (Reuters) - New Zealand All Blacks scrumhalf Piri Weepu’s first touch of the ball in a competitive game of rugby on Saturday after recovering from a dislocated ankle was not the stuff of dreams, rather an embarrassing shanked kick.
The ball sliced off his right foot and flew higher into the rain at a William Jones Park in the shadows of the mist-shrouded hills surrounding Wainuiomata, than it went forward.
“Yeah, the boys were slagging me in the changing rooms just now,” Weepu told Reuters in the bar at the Wainuiomata Rugby Club in suburban Wellington.
“They were just telling me it was an awesome kick,” he said with a wide grin.
“I wasn’t going to kick today but I thought I’d give it a go,” added the 27-year-old, who played 40 minutes for Wainuiomata in their 16-11 loss to Poneke in Wellington club rugby.
Weepu dislocated his ankle and broke his leg playing for his province Wellington last October and Saturday’s game was the first step in his final stages to returning to the field for the Wellington Hurricanes in Super rugby.
“It was pretty good. I was pretty tired at the end. I was blowing for those last two minutes of the game,” said Weepu, who was wearing shorts, a sweatshirt and still had both ankles heavily strapped.
“It was all about a bit of confidence and a bit of a hit out and to see my fitness levels and to see how the ankle would hold up.
“Apart from the wet weather I was quite happy with the way things went. We didn’t win but for myself having a run around and a bit of contact it was pretty good.”
Weepu, who had been playing arguably the best rugby of his career last year and cemented himself in Graham Henry’s All Blacks side, said he had not even focussed on the World Cup later this year in New Zealand during his rehabilitation — he was instead concentrating on achieving little goals.
“I haven’t really thought about the World Cup at all,” he said. “I just wanted to get back on to the field.
“Obviously I’m miles off where I should be but this is a stepping stone to where I want to be. So far it has been good, but I know that I have to do a lot more hard work.”
Weepu, who was injured when he suffered a seemingly innocuous slip in a provincial game against Taranaki, said the atrocious conditions and slippery ground on Saturday had given him flashbacks of his injury.
“A couple of times (on Saturday) I did (remember) but you try to stay out of it,” he said. “I tried to make sure it didn’t really play on my mind much and that I wanted to go out there and run around freely.”
Weepu, who has said he will shave his unkempt beard when he returns to the Super rugby field, will play for a development side on Wednesday and turn out for Wainuiomata against next week before he hopes to be available for the Hurricanes’ match against the Queensland Reds on April 30.
“That has always been the goal to be back midway through the season, that was always the goal from straight after I had the surgery,” he said.
“I’ve got to do to what I need to do to be back up playing with those boys. I can’t do all my rehab and not have a game under my belt where I’m confident in my ankle.
“All these stepping stones are a goal for me to get back up there. So far everything has gone to plan.”
(Editing by Alastair Himmer; To comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org) Please double click on the newslink: for more rugby stories