Andrew Knewstubb’s long recovery road leads to Vancouver

All Blacks Sevens star makes long-awaited return to HSBC SVNS rugby in Vancouver after nearly two years on the sidelines with injury

The reaction of his team-mates said it all. 

When Andrew Knewstubb’s name flashed up on the screen confirming his place in the All Blacks Sevens touring squad for the Vancouver and Los Angeles stages of the HSBC SVNS 2024 series, the team room erupted. 

The entire squad engulfed the man affectionately known as ‘Stubby’, jumping all over him and almost lifting the roof with the noise of their cheers. 

They all knew how long the road had been to get to this point. 

Knewstubb played fewer than 20 games of sevens for New Zealand in almost four years – a trans-Tasman tournament held during the COVID-19 pandemic, six matches at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and then another four in New Zealand’s return to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Singapore in 2022. 

That was where he first ruptured his ACL in his left knee. Just as he was about to return from that injury, in March last year, he did it again. 

After two years of rehab and setbacks, Knewstubb returns to HSBC SVNS in Vancouver. He says seeing his name on that teamsheet was, in some ways, better than being selected the first time around.

“Maybe [it’s] even more special,” he said. “I guess when I first got named I wasn't really expecting it and now this time I’ve been working so hard, putting in a lot of effort to try to make it, so to finally get named is quite a massive relief. I’m just stoked.”

Such has been the injury toll in the team over the past two seasons that Knewstubb has had a rotating cast of characters join him on the rehab train, the ‘mahi dogs’, doing the work at home. 

But, he says, as supportive as they’ve all been of each other, everyone’s injury situation is different.

“Even with ACLs there’s different grafts that they take and everyone’s got their different journey,” Knewstubb reflects. “When other guys would get injured it was almost explaining to them, ‘I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, but I can imagine’. 

“You’re kind of on the same page, but a different book almost.”

“I’ve had a lot of guys come through the rehab process and then get back out onto the field while I was still stuck there, so that was a bit disheartening. But at the same time, it was awesome to train alongside them, watch them grow, and try to push them as much as they were pushing me.”

Those team-mates, family and friends helped him get through a time when he thought he might not play again … as did a dog called Benji, named after Kiwis league star Benji Marshall, who had his fair share of injuries during his career. 

“I’ve got my dog at home, he’s a little legend,” Knewstubb laughs. “And we’ve just got such an awesome support crew here as well as my family and I got to catch up with some mates that I haven’t been able to see for a long time, so there was some good stuff in there as well.”

Given the strong 2023 New Zealand season had, when they won five tournaments and the overall series title, it’s easy to forget how influential Knewstubb was before his injury. 

An instinctive runner with brilliant acceleration, Knewstubb’s return will add a much-needed dimension to an All Blacks Sevens side that has so far failed to fire in 2024. 

With only one local club game before getting on the plane, Knewstubb feels he’s ready to test himself against the world’s best again – and a four-minute 12-second bronco test time recently would attest to his level of fitness.

“There’s a wee element of needing to trust my body again but overall I’m feeling really good and have been smashed plenty of times at training. After the first ACL, I was running around as if nothing had ever happened but now I feel like I understand my body quite well and I’m pretty confident.”

Knewstubb will also arrive in Vancouver a little lighter. For the first time since before the first injury, he’s cut off his rehab locks to raise money for the Cancer Society of New Zealand, marking another small step on the lengthy road back to HSBC SVNS. 

With all the boxes ticked off to make his return, now he just has to keep his emotions in check until he gets the ball in his hands again. 

“I’ve tried not to think too much about how it's all going to feel because it gets me a bit emotional. I think I need to just kind of take it as it comes. It's bloody exciting… I’m nervous and have so many emotions, so I’m guessing the jersey presentation will be quite special – and, yes, waiting in that tunnel is going to be even more so.” 

There was a time when he thought he might never be able to play at the highest level again. But two years of work, with the help of a whole lot of people and the unconditional love of a four-legged best mate has Andrew Knewstubb primed for a second coming on the global stage.

By Rikki Swannell