Peta Ahki: 'After my first knee surgery, I thought I'd never play rugby again'

Peta Ahki: ‘After my first knee surgery, I thought I’d never play rugby again’

Subscribers preview – Long hampered by injuries, he has established himself as a central focus in the Toulouse system for nearly four years and one of the world’s best players in his position. Peta Ahki here invokes managing his fragile physique or his desire to compete in the 2023 World Cup.

After a tumultuous training session in recent months, how do you judge your team ahead of this playoff game?

It was different from the previous three seasons I played in Toulouse, with a less comfortable position in the standings, canceled matches, postponements, no internationals and doubles. But this is life. We know what our team is capable of in the final stage, when everyone plays rugby and we’re preaching.

Personally, I had two months off in February and March due to knee surgery. How do you see your season?

Compared to the other, the start of the season was more shy. I wasn’t at my best, so I want to finish it off as best I can. I intend to take advantage of the off-season slack to train hard and get back to where I was last year.

Why did you decide to have surgery at the beginning of February?

With the medical staff and coaches, we initially planned to play as many matches as possible, especially during the international period due to all the players who have been called up for the France national team. But the injury worsened during the meeting in Perpignan and she finally decided to have the surgery earlier than planned. The idea was to be ready for the end of the season.

Recently you said at a press conference that you still feel pain…

That’s right, especially after matches. For the first two or three days, it won’t be easy. I walk slowly when I get out of bed! My daughters are trying to interrogate me, but I tell them: Leave my dad alone, we’ll play later. (a smile). I take a lot of medication and do a lot of massage, physio.

Isn’t that very difficult?

This is also rugby. I think many other players are going through the same thing. It’s not perfect but it’s how I found getting ready for the game every weekend.

And on Earth, do you suffer?

no. Honestly, the treatment works well and overall I’m 100% and can’t think of anything but the game.

Injuries are part of your career…

yes. I’ve known two very big. I have a reconstructed shoulder and an operation knee (When he was still in New Zealand, editor’s note), which was the first thing that kept me out of the competition for eight weeks, like this season. I took it for six months. Having had many injuries, I learned to be well surrounded by my friends and family circle.

What does this bring you?

I understood that injuries are part of my job and my personal journey. The most important thing is to become competitive again each time, so you need to do what is necessary for this, sometimes slowly but surely. The key is that the player masters what he can, such as training. For the rest, I listen to specialists and doctors.

Did it make you stronger?

Yes, that is clear. That is why I repeat how important the personal environment is in such circumstances. Today I feel mentally stronger.

Was your body your limit when you played in New Zealand?

This is certain. When I came to hurricanes (in 2017), the guys in front of me in the hierarchy have done a lot of preparation and it was hard to take the time to play, then there is no competition like my aspiring competitors here, to keep playing. There, the injuries I sustained for two years held me back. But, well, that’s how it happened… That does not prevent me from being happy now in Toulouse.

In the Hurricanes, only one Super Rugby match has been played, and thirteen matches in the Blues in two years. In Toulouse, in four seasons, I always played between 21 and 25 games a year…

It’s something we talk about a lot among foreigners, for those who’ve played in Super Rugby. In New Zealand, twenty-five matches, you do in two years! Here the chapters are long. You just have to look at the numbers you quote from me… It’s unbelievable to us! It proves what our body can do too, when injuries leave us alone.

Are you better connected to your body today?

exactly. With experience, especially the experience of injuries, I feel things are better and I’ve learned to listen to my body. So it is best to be frank with the medical staff and the trainers. They know the players, and they know what they need to be ready to play this weekend.

How is that ?

ogo (mola) and Clement (poetrinud) Always ask me at the beginning of the week: “Are you okay, are you feeling good or not?” I just have to be honest with them. When I see it necessary, I answer them: “Today, I think I’m going to need to do something else to be fit for the big day of training, which is the most important.”

This forces you to be transparent. Some can sometimes hide their injuries in hopes of playing…

This calls for great trust between us. In any case, there is no team success without him. When you reach that level of mutual respect between the player and coaches, they listen to you and hold you accountable. It’s a good thing. Often the problem is that as an athlete you don’t like not training.

And therefore ?

You always want to be on the field with the players. I don’t want people to see you as the one who doesn’t train and play on the weekends…but sometimes during the week an injury can get worse and worse. That’s why I understood how much I had to listen to my body.

Your wife, Kayla McAllister (2013 Rugby 7 Player of the Year, editor’s note)He knows the limitations of high-level sport. Was his role important in difficult times?

I am so lucky to have her by my side and she has helped me so much. With girls, she manages many things so that I can perform. Honestly, if you hadn’t been there, I would definitely have stopped playing rugby after my first injury.

at this point ?

yes. After my first knee surgery, I thought I’d never play rugby again. When I heard the doctor’s words in New Zealand, I really thought I’d hang up. I’m lucky to have Kayla to back me up.

You are a calm and wise man. But the irony is that your teammates regularly tell us that you talk a lot on the pitch…

For you to understand, you have to go back to my beginnings with the blues, in Super Rugby. I was really a very conservative person on and off the field.

Tell us…

John Kirwan was the technical director at the time, and he called me into his office. He said to me : “I know you’re often in your corner, and you’re a reserved person. But here, in the blues, you need to communicate on the court. You have to become someone else in the game and your progress will continue through the fact of t’ outright. I always remember this interview, and tried to jot it down on match days. I grew up on these tips. I got better and took responsibility.

Would you like to take it or is it not normal?

No, I like it. I like talking to the players on the field and training them with me, especially in defense. I was assigned switches in this sector to organize things. It’s a role that I take very seriously.

About Ugo Mola said: “He is the regulator of our streak. When a betta is fine, three-quarters of them are fine.”

(uncomfortable) No, no, no… I understand what he means. But this is not me! I just do my job and the others do theirs. When we do it well together, it works.

But do you feel you have a key place on this team?

Yes, of course. Also because, in the way we play, the connection between the opening number and the number 12 has to be very strong. So the coaches have given me a lot of responsibility and I’m ensuring a certain communication, especially to manage the defensive side as I said. Then they tell me: “If you can pull the team down at the crucial moments of a match, do it.” So I always try to monitor those moments.

You give the impression that you have found a perfect balance in your life, between your family and your career…

This is absolutely true. We always discuss with the group of foreign players what we like about France, especially in Toulouse. Family life was of the utmost importance in my decision to stay here (Last season extended three years, editor’s note) Meaning we can spend more time at home. My wife is not working and I can go home after practice. On free weekends, we travel together, discovering this part of the world. In the weeks off, we were able to go to Greece or Croatia.

Your family is very close to that of Chaselyn Colby. Was it difficult to accept his departure last summer?

It was difficult, because our families would see each other a lot, in the afternoons or on the weekends. Our girls were playing together. The other thing I missed was his presence on the team. Chaselin could only grab the ball and make you something out of nothing. But we are happy for him and his family. He had a chance at Toulon and seized it.

What are you missing? International heads?

yes (in wishful thinking). I feel like it’s something I really miss. I want to play internationally. I am currently in discussion with my agent and with some of the national teams. I hope to register my eligibility in Samoa as soon as possible. My ambition is to play in the next World Cup.

You also qualify with Tonga, right?

Yes, I was born in New Zealand, but my mom is Tonga and my dad is Samoan. I have discussed it with the coaches, as well as with my parents, because it is very important. I will make my decision in June.

Last year, you admitted to us that you hadn’t given up on your dream of wearing the All Blacks jersey, having become an international in New Zealand at the age of seven. Did you close that door?

It is very difficult. They have their team now… and to qualify for the All Blacks I had to leave Toulouse to go back to New Zealand. And again, nothing is guaranteed. I would love it but it’s too complicated.

You must have been happy to hear about the relaxation of the eligibility rules set by World Rugby…

We heard about it, there were rumors. But I felt that this would never happen. Now things have officially changed and that’s great news for Tier 2 countries.

There are also Samoan and Tonga flags on the helmet that you wear at every match…

It is an appreciation of my culture. I’m proud to be Samoan and Tonga, it’s a way for me to represent my paternal and maternal origins.

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