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'It was confronting': Foketi cleared of spinal damage but Wallabies star not 'out of the woods'

23rd February, 2024
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23rd February, 2024
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In welcome news, Lalakai Foketi has been cleared of spinal damage following an innocuous “training mishap” but the Wallabies midfielder isn’t “out of the woods” yet, according to Waratahs coach Darren Coleman.

The 29-year-old Waratahs centre was taken to hospital on Thursday just before noon after staying down after a regular ruck clearance at training.

After the nine-Test Wallaby was moved to the northern end of the field in the shade, paramedics attended Foketi’s side before he was lifted on a stretcher and neck brace into the ambulance and taken to Prince of Wales Hospital.

A CT scan cleared Foketi of spinal damage, but the affable midfielder is awaiting his MRI results to determine whether there’s any ligament or soft tissue damage.

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Lalakai Foketi has been cleared of spinal damage but is not “out of the woods” yet. (Photo by Adam Pretty – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Coleman, who was with Foketi along with several others until he was driven away from the scene, said the entire club and community had breathed a sigh of relief with the initial news update.

“We had the training mishap with La yesterday. It wasn’t great,” Coleman told reporters on Friday ahead of the side’s departure to Brisbane ahead of their Super Rugby opener against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday evening.

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“It was a bit of an ordinary scene for him and everyone was really worried at the time around what the extent of his injuries were.

“He’s on the improve mentally, and he’s starting to get his spirits back about him.”

Coleman said it was too early to know when Foketi might return to the training field.

“How that looks for football and return dates, it’s just way too early to tell,” Coleman said.

“He’ll have the MRI today. All going well, he’ll be in a neck brace and get released today. He’s pretty keen to get home and then he’ll start his road to recovery from there.

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“I really hope for La’s sake it’s not a career-threatening thing, but if you’ve got instability in that area, risk and reward needs to be taken into consideration. It’s way too early to see, I couldn’t speculate about the recovery. I’d imagine after the MRI we’ll know a bit more.”

Lalakai Foketi featured in the World Cup last year and is one of the most popular figures in Australian rugby. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Coleman said the incident had rocked the entire group, but he was confident it wouldn’t distract them ahead of their season opener.

“I sat with him waiting for the ambulance. He was in a bit of pain obviously but it was more of the fear of the unknown and it was confronting for the team,” he said.

“When you see your mate go like that, it hits home what these guys put themselves through each run training run. There’s a lot of contact in our sport and all it needs is to land on the ground the wrong way and it can be catastrophic.”

Teammate Harry Johnson-Holmes said the best way the Waratahs could respond was to give Foketi something to smile about on Saturday night.

“La’s a really popular guy in the group and to see someone, who is a leader within the group and a physical presence, to be in a position he ended up in it was quite confronting,” Johnson-Holmes said.

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“But the updates we’ve got have all been promising.”

Max Jorgensen has come into the starting side at fullback. (Photo by Pete Dovgan/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Foketi’s injury has seen Joey Walton shift from fullback to his regular position at inside centre, thereby allowing Max Jorgensen to make an earlier than expected return to the No.15 jersey.

“It’s not what we planned, but Maxi was chomping at the bit. He wanted to start. We’ll give him a shot,” Coleman said.

“There’s no excuses. We’re going up there with a job to do and, if anything, we’ve got a little bit more of a spring in our step as far as motivation goes to do well for La.”

Coleman said Jorgensen, who was taken on last year’s World Cup has had an injury-riddled run since bursting onto the scene in last year’s season opener by scoring a brace of tries on debut, was eager to get out onto the field.

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“Have you ever waled a dog on a leash that hasn’t been out for a while? It’s hard to hang on. That’s Maxi,” Coleman said.

“He gets it, it wasn’t our original plan, but we’ve got intentions to look after him.”

After two lacklustre showings in the pre-season trials, Coleman said he was eager to prove the doubters wrong and was confident they could leave Queensland with an early win.

“They’ve got a new coach, there’s always a new newfound enthusiasm and excitement when a new coach comes in, and I’m hoping they have a really massive crowd there,” Coleman said.

“We’re just super pumped to get out there.

“I imagine most people are writing us off, they’d be favourites. We’re going up into a hostile environment.

“I reckon there’s no better way for us to show our mettle, and what we stand for as a team on, on how we come out of the blocks on Saturday night.”

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