The four-test All Black has been ravaged by injury in recent years, so much so he has played just 15 of the Chiefs’ last 58 games – dating back to the opening round of the 2018 season – thanks to two year-long stints on the sidelines.
The latest setback for the 25-year-old came between last year’s pre-Covid competition and the Super Rugby Aotearoa start up, where he was struck down with chronic hip dysfunction and had to undergo FAI (femoroacetabular impingement) surgery to both hips.
It followed another major issue in 2018, when Moli took a knock to his quad in the opening game of the season, which turned out to be a haematoma and had him suffering from compartment syndrome. That left him with a massive scar from an injury he was told was generally only seen as a result of car accidents and can potentially end up in amputation.
If that wasn’t enough, having just got out on the park for the 2019 pre-season, an elbow injury then kept Moli out for the first half of that campaign.
So, in what is his sixth year with the Chiefs, the 1.89m, 127kg officially-listed front rower – who looked a good deal trimmer than that at training this week – will notch just cap number 44 on Saturday.
A groin strain to Angus Ta’avao in last weekend’s win over the Force in Perth has opened the door, with Sione Mafileo promoted to start and Joe Apikotoa making way for Moli, who has impressed with his resilience, and attitude, during his extensive rehab.
“Really happy for Atu,” coach Clayton McMillan said in naming his side on Thursday.
“He’s had a bit of a treacherous run with injury, but he’s maintained a whole lot of positivity, and continues to add heaps of value off the field in and around our environment.