The 29-year-old wonder wing, a World Cup winner in 2015, hadn’t played since February 2020 as he battled a knee injury that eventually required surgery.
Having made a sensational debut for unfashionable London Irish in late 2019, there were genuine fears the injury might have ended a stellar career for the former Highlander who played 26 tests for New Zealand, scoring 16 tries.
London Irish coach Declan Kidney revealed to Rugby Pass that Naholo had recently played a half game for his second-string team unannounced, and he was hopeful Naholo could return to the top team as they look to push on from a promising position that has them sitting sixth in the English Premiership.
Kidney felt Naholo was inspirational with the way he had handled the injury and rehabilitation.
“If somebody was to write a book about rehabbing (an injury) I would be interested in his,” Kidney told Rugby Pass.
“Sometimes when you see a player on the pitch it comes down to talent, but professionalism is about how you go about your job and stick to the task. The way he has gone about his would show any player the way back, and it hasn’t been easy for him – but I haven’t heard a word of complaint out of him.”
Kidney said Naholo’s patience was being rewarded, though the coach was mindful of handling his first team comeback carefully after his secret return for the second team had gone so well.
“It was a case of getting it right, and he has worked as diligently as anyone I have met,” Kidney told Rugby Pass.
“You don’t ever want to see a player in that position. In adversity, you see the best of people and I cannot speak highly enough of him. He never dragged his arse about the place or felt sorry for himself, never acted the victim.
“He is not a guy to steal the limelight and he has helped the back three in training.
“It will be a little bit longer but the A-game was a stepping stone that we didn’t advertise, and it was great to see him back out on the pitch – but we have a duty of care. We have to make sure we don’t overextend him after such a long period out. He was the most senior player in the game.”