Professional rugby players are used to getting over the wringer, but even so, it takes a considerable level of mental strength to process and overcome what Jake Polledri has been through for the past couple of years.
The last row of Gloucester and Italy are now healthy again, this week they snatched pre-season drills at Kingsholm ahead of Telegraph Sport which recently signed a new contract, which all seems surprising given the recent state of the game. right leg of Polledri.
“I think it’s easier to summarize what hasn’t been broken,” laughs Polledri. Playing for Italy against Scotland in November 2020 in Florence, far from any contact Polledri slipped and the results were catastrophic: his anterior, posterior and lateral collateral ligaments are all broken, a torn calf, a hamstring torn from bone, a fractured leg and nerve damage.
The last detail is the most important. Following a left hamstring graft – the equivalent of a third-degree injury, the worst of species – Foaly was initially bedridden for a month, but waited a year to see if the nerves in his knee right would recover. There were sincere concerns that the powerful full-back’s career would end in his mid-20s.
“It is difficult to accept. Especially a slip of the tongue, that something so mundane could cost so much time out of rugby “, reflects Polledri.” With all the experience and everything we have in the world right now, the fact that you sit and wait for the courage recover is the painful part. Since the news came out of electromyography (which measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to stimulation of the muscle by a nerve) that [the knee] he was about to recover, that the nerve was regenerating, it was always and only positive ”.
Foaly’s recovery continued to progress well over the past season, but the entire family was shaken in March of this year when his brother, Sam, died at the age of 24 of a suspected heart attack. In general, Polledri tried to face the tragedy in the most positive way possible. Last week a defibrillator was installed by the family in Millennium Square in Bristol, where Sam died, with Foaly now campaigning for public installation of others across the country.
“Every second counts. Sam had a defibrillation in six minutes – they called an ambulance, but he was in town and they were pretty busy. If you get a defibrillator within three to five minutes, his chances of survival are between 50 and 70%. Every second counts. There were five defibs that Sam died in, and none of them were publicly available, so it’s annoying and frustrating. The system isn’t great. “
The pain of losing her brother coupled with months of rehabilitation must have been immense. Foaly, indomitable, continued to fight.
“Sam would have liked me to go back to rugby. He didn’t get a chance to see me play again, which is brutal, ”adds Polledri. “I don’t think sitting and getting depressed will do anyone any good. There are times for this, but [I want to] just go back to where I was. There is no point in dragging someone with you – again there is time for that and you can be angry, but the positivity around me that I’m playing again has overwhelmed everything else. “
Coincidentally, Polledri started an artisanal cider business, Just Pressed Cider, with his partner, Becca, two weeks before he suffered an injury. Already loved by Gloucester fans and found in several pubs and bars in Gloucester and Cheltenham, product canning and business expansion keep Foaly busy away from the club.
The couple are now engaged, having met when Polledri worked at one of his father’s subway branches in Bristol. “I want an Italian wedding and she wants an English one, so we’re at loggerheads!” Foaly admits.
While his mind was already on interests outside of rugby before the injury, being sidelined for so long only reinforced the importance of planning for life and a career after retirement.
“For many people, 30 seconds or a slip can cost you a career. It really highlights that and the importance of other things besides throwing a ball around, really. “
It will be a relief to play again
Even if for now, throwing the ball and making contact is exactly what Polledri can’t wait to do. With his knee splint removed and after a pleasant (apparent) preseason, the 26-year-old is struggling to get back to playing and change the narrative around him.
“I sat in the stands watching those fitness sessions for almost a year and a half. To be able to really participate and be part of it, get to the heart with the boys, it’s fantastic to go back ”, explains Polledri.
“Honestly it will be a relief to play again. All that is now is’ what’s your knee like? When will you play again? ‘ if I talk to my grandparents or my mother or anyone else, while I want it to be ‘so nice to see you again’ – a change of tone. People just care, and I’m not blaming them or what they say, I just want to come back. “
For Gloucester and also for Italy with the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, Polledri’s return after an immensely difficult period will be welcomed with open arms.