Rugby World Cup: All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax feared tournament was over after needing 30 stitches from gruesome cut against South Africa

All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax feared his Rugby World Cup was over before it could begin, after a nasty cut left him needing 30 stitches after defeat against South Africa last month.

As the All Blacks fell to a record defeat at Twickenham, the sight of Lomax limping from the field with a large gash on his knee, after a stray boot from South African fullback Damian Willemse was the last thing coach Ian Foster wanted to see.

Doctors were able to clear the 27-year-old of any serious injury, but Lomax still faced a recovery time that has kept him sidelined to start the World Cup.

Lomax has played no part in the All Blacks' first two matches, losing to France before defeating Namibia last weekend.

Tyrel Lomax treated by All Blacks medical staff
Tyrel Lomax treated by All Blacks medical staff Photo credit: Getty Images

But with a week off before a return to action against Italy in a clash that could ultimately define the finishing order of Pool A, Lomax will likely return – along with the trio of captain Sam Cane, Jordie Barrett and Shannon Frizell.

For Lomax, though, things could have been so much worse.

As he was assisted by medical staff at Twickenham, the influential tighthead prop admits he was fearful that he would be ruled out of France 2023 entirely.

"My first thought was that I was going to be going home," Lomax said. "It could always be worse, but I'm just happy to be here and still have a chance to play at a World Cup.

"The surgeon did a good job of stitching it up, and the medical team has also done a really good job. I'm happy with how it's come together."

Already without Frizell for the start of the World Cup and losing the pair of Cane and Barrett for the opener during the week, the All Blacks are thankful to still have Lomax with them.

Alongside Ethan de Groot, Lomax has surged comfortably clear as a first-choice prop, after Jason Ryan transformed the forward pack since taking over in the middle of last year.

And for Ryan, no secret is made of just what Lomax means to the team fighting to stay in contention after a chastening defeat to France first up.

"He's really stood up for us as the All Blacks' tighthead," said Ryan. "He's grown his game, he's grown his body. 

Tyrel Lomax.
Tyrel Lomax. Photo credit: Photosport

"He's been challenged a little bit around his professionalism [and] making sure he understands he's putting the best he can into his body to get the maximum output. He's made some good shifts there.

"The last two or three years, he was a bit up and down with his Super Rugby form, but he's come in and been a real warrior for us in the All Blacks.

"I'm really proud of how he's taken his opportunity – someone needed to. He's got a good ball carry, and gets around the track really well."

But despite still having his World Cup hopes alive, Lomax has been forced to try and keep fit while his teammates carried on without him.

Unable to fully train with the rest of the All Blacks, Lomax has still managed to put the work in behind the scenes to stay ready to play as soon as he could.

"I was in a brace for about a week, just to let the stitches heal," he explained. "As soon as I came out of that brace, I was trying to do as much as I could to get the strength back into my quad muscle.

"Trying to stay fit, I was doing a lot of boxing sessions with Nic Gill. As soon as I could run, I was doing a lot of running."

The extra week off before facing Italy could prove troublesome for the All Blacks.

For a start, the coaches will have to keep the side focussed on the task at hand, with the risk of wandering minds as the tournament continues without them until September 30.  

But Ryan says the extra time on the training paddock should see Lomax return to face Italy in Lyon.   

"We've had a full week where he's done some eight on eight scrummaging," added Ryan.  "Also, this week we’ll be able to set him up really well.

"He'll find his timing early, and get amongst it. I'm confident."