New All Black wing sensation Waisake Naholo is in Fiji for herbal treatment to fix his broken leg in a last-ditch attempt to be ready for next month’s Rugby World Cup.
He believes the procedure – using leaves from a common South Pacific plant – will take eight days to restore the fibula snapped during his sensational first test against Argentina in Christchurch on July 17.
Naholo told the Weekend Herald that he had been urged to return for the traditional medicine by the doctor at Nadroumai, his remote village 6km inland from the southwestern coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
He said the doctor, Isei Naiova, had used the leaves to cure his rugby injuries twice before, taking eight days each time to fix a broken knee and a popped hip.
“He very carefully resets the breaks, then applies the leaves. It works.”
One of his young cousins in the village had his broken arm sorted out in eight days, using the same treatment.
Naiova declined to tell the Weekend Herald what leaves he uses, and Naholo said he couldn’t recall the name of the plant, although he had seen something similar growing in New Zealand.
“It smells the same, although it grows much bigger in New Zealand. It’s quite scarce at Nadroumai these days because of the demand. If anyone finds one growing in the bush they’re asked to keep quiet about it.”
The natural anti-inflammatory qualities of at least half a dozen Pacific plants are the subject of research by scientists, who have been recording their impacts on local medicine for more than a century.
One called kalolo is a possible candidate for Naholo’s treatment, although it’s not clear whether it grows in New Zealand. Other plants used in Fiji on broken bones and fractures include shrubs, vines, creepers and weeds.
Professor Geoffrey Horne, an orthopaedic surgeon in Wellington, said natural healing was not based on any known western medical practice but people believed in it.
“I don’t know of any cases where it’s made a difference in healing of the bone. But if patients believe it will help, it often will. You could call it psychological faith.
“If someone says to you, ‘You look better’, you think, ‘Gosh, that’s great’. And usually you wake up in the morning feeling better.”
Naholo, 24, had standard treatment for the broken leg in New Zealand, but was told there was only an outside chance he would make it back to the rugby field in time for the Cup, which starts in Britain on September 18 – six weeks away.
He says the All Black coaches have left the door open for a return, and are staying in touch with him.
He was able to dispense with crutches at the beginning of this month and now walks easily, his healing leg protected only by a compression sock. He continues with upper-body work in the gym, but is not allowed to run.
Many All Black fans would be keen to see Naholo back early but All Black coach Steve Hansen has suggested the best-case scenario is he could be fit again just in time for the quarter-finals.
“There is a very fine crack in [the bone],” he said at the time of the injury. “It just means three months out. If we get him right and we do need an outside back replacement, he will be fit and ready to go in the middle of October.”
On Sunday, the All Blacks management would not comment on whether the treatment in Fiji would make any difference to Naholo’s recovery or prospects of playing in the World Cup.
Naholo scored 13 tries for the Highlanders in their first title-winning season and made several scorching breaks in his debut test.