Paris - New Zealand prop Nepo Laulala will have something to
prove when he lines up against France on Saturday after being told last year
that he would never play rugby again.
The 26-year-old tighthead suffered a knee injury in 2016
that not only interrupted his 10-Test international career but almost brought
the curtain down on his playing days.
Now the Samoan-born Chiefs front-rower is determined to show
he's a better player than he was before his injury.
"It was really tough, I actually didn't really think
I'd get back here," he admitted.
"It didn't really help because my doctor told me he
didn't think I'd play again.
"I had to get over that. It was a tough road
But the desire to silence the doubters was one of the main
"It was a massive injury, I think it was one of worst
he (the doctor) has ever seen - that's not really a thing you want to hear
from your doctor.
"I wanted to prove that I could make it back; I wanted
to prove that doctor wrong; I was really angry after that; after that I never
saw him again!"
Laulala will be cheered on at the Stade de France by his All
Black international brother Casey, 35, who now plays his club rugby in Paris
for Racing 92 after spells at Cardiff Blues and Munster.
"It's always good to see Casey, we hardly see him back
home. We've been catching up the past couple of days," said Nepo Laulala.
"He was always there for me, he always texts me, gives
me little messages that keep me up. He's helped me through heaps, he's part of
my main reason of choosing this pathway, trying to make it big.
"He paved the way for my career, he's been a big part
of my career, definitely. He made us believe it's possible to achieve it.
"Growing up in the island (in Samoa), we're very casual
there, we don't really do (much), almost too casual!
"He just made us believe we're capable of more than
what we think."
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen believes Laulala will bring
mobility and athleticism to his pack against the French, who the All Blacks
beat, 24-19, a year ago in the same stadium.
"He's another one who's got a bit of understanding
about what's needed," said Hansen.
"He's a reasonable athlete - you can only use the word
reasonable for props, you can't say they're great athletes in the sense of
running around the park.
"They're great athletes when it comes to scrummaging
and lifting. He does that part of his game really well."
France coach Guy Noves caused a stir on Thursday when naming
a new and young halfback pairing in 20-year-old scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, who
will make his first start after just three substitute appearances, and
21-year-old debutant flyhalf Anthony Belleau.But he also raised a few eyebrows by bringing heavyweight
centre Mathieu Bastareaud back into the starting XV for his first cap since the
World Cup, when he was part of the team humiliated 62-13 by New Zealand in the
"The choices have been made based on the potential at
our disposition," said Noves, whose side have won only three of eight
Tests this year.
"When you have, I think, 18 players injured, you take
into account the form and the physical preparation - we didn't have any other
options than these."
New Zealand centre Ryan Crotty for one is looking forward to
facing Bastareaud again, saying it would be a "tough battle" but
"pretty exciting"."We played against each other at age group level, a
good couple of years ago, he was just as big then as he is now!"