Jake Polledri ready to bounce back with Gloucester after losing nearly two years of career

Jake Polledri – Jake Polledri ready to bounce back with Gloucester after losing nearly two years of career – JOHN LAWRENCE

Professional rugby players are used to going through the wringer, but even then, it takes a remarkable level of mental strength to process and overcome what Jake Polledri has been through in the last couple of years.

Gloucester and Italy’s backline is healthy again, going through pre-season training in Kingsholm this week ahead of Telegraph Sport, who have recently signed a new contract, which all seems surprising given the recent state of his right leg. from Polledri.

“I think it’s easier to summarize what hasn’t been broken,” Polledri laughs. 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 all torn, a torn calf, tendon torn from the bone, fractured leg and damage. on the nerves.

The last detail is the most important. After a graft was taken from his left hamstring – the equivalent of a grade three injury, the worst kind – Polledri was initially bedridden for a month but waited a year to see if the nerves in his right knee would recover. There were genuine concerns that the mighty back-row’s career would end in his mid-20s.

“It’s hard to accept. Especially a slip, that something so trivial can cost so much time outside rugby”, reflects Polledri. “With all the experience and everything we have in the world right now, the fact that you’re sitting there and waiting for the courage to pick up is the painful part. Since the news came out of electromyography (which measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to stimulation of a muscle nerve) that [the knee] was going to recover, that the nerve was regenerating, it was only positive”.

Jake Polledri - Jake Polledri ready to bounce back with Gloucester after losing nearly two years of career - GETTY IMAGES

Jake Polledri – Jake Polledri ready to bounce back with Gloucester after losing nearly two years of career – GETTY IMAGES

Polledri’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 age 24 of a suspected heart attack. Normally, Polledri tried to approach the tragedy as positively as possible. Last week, a defibrillator was installed by the family in Millennium Square in Bristol, where Sam passed away, with Polledri now campaigning for more to be installed publicly across the country.

“Every second counts. Sam had a defibrillation in six minutes – they called an ambulance, but it was in town and they were pretty busy. If you defibrillate someone in three to five minutes, your chances of survival are 50-70%. There were five defibrillators where Sam died, and none of them were available to the public, so this is irritating and frustrating. The system is not good.”

The pain of losing her brother combined with months of rehabilitation must have been immense. Polledri, without bowing, continued fighting.

“Sam would like me to return to rugby. He didn’t get a chance to see me play again, which is brutal,” adds Polledri. “I don’t think sitting around and depressed is going to do anyone any good. There are times for that, but [I want to] just go back to where i was. There’s no point dragging anyone down with you – again, there’s time for that and you can be upset, but the positivity around me playing again trumped everything else.”

Coincidentally, Polledri launched a craft cider business, Just Pressed Cider, with his partner, Becca, two weeks before he was hit with an injury. Already loved by Gloucester fans and found in numerous pubs and bars in Gloucester and Cheltenham, the canning of the product and the expansion of the business are keeping Polledri busy away from the club.

The couple is now also 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 are at odds!” Polledri admits.

While his mind was already on interests outside of rugby before the injury, being out of action for so long has only reinforced the importance of planning for life and a career after retirement.

“For many people, 30 seconds or one slip can cost a career. It really highlights that and the importance of other things besides throwing a ball, really.”

It will be a relief to play again

Although, for now, throwing a ball and making contact is exactly what Polledri can’t wait to do. With his knee splint removed and after a pleasant pre-season (apparently), the 26-year-old is looking forward to getting back into the game and changing the narrative around him.

“I sat in the stands watching these fitness sessions for almost a year and a half. To be able to really participate and be a part of it, to get in the mood with the boys, it’s amazing to come back,” explains Polledri.

“To be honest, it will be a relief to play again. All that is now is ‘how’s your knee? When are you going to play again?’ if I’m talking to my grandparents or my mom or whoever, while I want it to be ‘so nice to see you back’ – a change of tone. People just care, and I don’t blame them or what they say, but I just want to be 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.

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