Samu Kerevi: From the Rugby World Cup to COVID-19 Quarantine

Samu Kerevi has been running time trials, just not in the traditional fashion.

There have been push-up contests, too, and a makeshift chest press in the form of a palate of water bottles.

It's not preseason. There is no game next week. In fact, there is no certainty when the next season will start or if and when training will resume. But still, the 26-year-old Wallabies star is grinding away ... from his hotel room on Sydney Harbour, in coronavirus quarantine lockdown.

Having stayed on in Japan while the COVID-19 crisis was sweeping the world, Kerevi at last made the decision to return to Australia and take on the mandatory 14-day quarantine period in Sydney.

"I'm here with a friend of mine from Brisbane, he plays for Yamaha, so we decided to come back at the same time just so we could go through the whole process together," Kerevi told ESPN, from his room at the Novotel on Sydney Harbour.

"Originally we were on a flight to the Gold Coast, via Taiwan and Singapore, so we had that flight booked; but last minute it got cancelled so we had to book a different flight, which was way more expensive. So we got back [to Sydney]; the process to get through the airport, there are a lot of [health] checks that you have to come through...we got to the hotel; the military's here; the police are here looking after the whole place and you've got to give credit to them because they've given up their time to be here and are putting themselves at risk for those of us who've been travelling, whether you had coronavirus or not."

Wind the clock back to the end of last year and Kerevi had been one of the standouts of a disappointing World Cup campaign for the Wallabies. He had earlier provided arguably the highlight of the year for Australian rugby when he barreled over the top of Beauden Barrett in Perth, Lomu-on-Catt-style.

But the World Cup proved to be a challenge too great for Australia, and the Wallabies centre who knew his time in the gold jersey would be on hold for the next few years, did his best to muzzle the pain.

"I was pretty disappointed with how we went," Kerevi said. "I was still training on, as if we'd made it all the way through to the final. So I just kept training because I knew I was expected at Suntory by the end of that year and they were really good to give me a couple of weeks off until I was needed in Japan.

"I couldn't watch the rest of the World Cup as the other teams kept playing on; you see them playing in the semis [and final] and it is really tough to watch but you've just got to cop that on the chin and move on from there. For me, I held onto that and kept training on until I was needed at Suntory. So I didn't really have a little break, it was more just my own training in my own time; I still stuck to a schedule because the disappointment of it all still got to me. I think the training kept me sane.

"It was good to get home and see my partner, my family and everyone, to hang out with a lot of the family because throughout that time you have to sacrifice a lot of that. I was lucky to see my brothers in Japan as they live there; my partner came over but to get home and see them, it kind of put things back into perspective."

Little more than a week into the World Cup, Kerevi had found himself at the centre of one of the tournament's biggest talking points.

With teams already on notice for dangerous contact with the head, and a series of cards and suspensions issued, Kerevi was penalized following a Television Match Official intervention for a raised forearm -- while carrying the ball -- that caught the neck of Wales replacement Rhys Patchell.

The Welshman would kick the resulting penalty as the Wallabies slipped to a rare Pool defeat, while a bewildered Kerevi later quipped he might have to play "rugby league" with his running style now apparently placing him at risk of sanction.

Some seven months later, Kerevi still finds the whole scenario a little confusing but it's the fact that his infringement led to three points that really stings.

"I was a bit shocked by it all because I wasn't sure how I should run, from then onwards," he explained. "I was shocked because I'd done that my whole career; but credit to Hoops [Michael Hooper] because he just said 'I'll back you, you know what you're doing'.

"But I was disappointed because I'd given them three points; Rhys wasn't missing [his penalty kicks] as soon as he came on. In Test footy, three points is a big thing, any points you take is massive; so I was more disappointed in myself that I let the team down. But like I said, Hoops just said move on from it. And after the game I spoke with Cheik and even he said the same thing; he backs me, and that gave me the confidence to keep doing what I'm doing.

"I'm not going to say that it was the wrong decision, but there were a lot of other things that weren't being checked at the World Cup (due to this rule).

"At the time what was going through my head was how am I going to run for the rest of the game? I was just trying to think of different ways because I wasn't trying to go for his head or anything, I was just running straight at him. It was quite funny for a few days after because the boys were mocking me about it at training but after that I moved on from it pretty quickly."

Kerevi says he probably overdid things in terms of his preparation for his return to Japan and almost "forgot" that he was heading into another full season, which at that stage represented 18 months of continued training and rugby.

After gathering up his life in Australia and making the move to Japan full time, he settled into life at famed club Suntory Sungoliath - joining fellow Australians Matt Giteau and Sean McMahon, and local superstars Kotaro Matsushima and Yutaka Nagare in the country's Top League.

While the season was brought to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic and an internal competition review, Kerevi says the move to Asia had been fantastic.

"It's been an awesome time down at Suntory, just a blessing to be honest," he told ESPN. "Suntory have a team of people that really help the foreigners settle in, so it's been a smooth transition for a lot of the boys that came over this season, for all the foreigners who've come in.

"For the team itself, it's the Japanese members that make the team, they are awesome. We're trying to speak their language and learn Japanese but they're also trying to learn our language and speak English. So it's a constant battle of us speaking English and Japanese, and the way they speak English is really funny and it must be funny to them how we try to speak Nihongo, Japanese.

"But it's awesome, the culture itself in terms of rugby is right up there. It's at a level where they want to win, you see every player doing extras after training; you see everyone doing the little things, doing the standards of the team. It's been one of the most professional teams I've ever been a part of and one of the most professional organisations as well."

Kerevi only got to play five-and-a-half games before the season was halted, at which time Suntory were sitting pretty in fourth following four wins and two losses.

While many players left Japan as the reality of the coronavirus hit home, Kerevi stayed on in the hope the competitions might resume. It also gave him an opportunity to spend quality time with his little brother, who also lives in Japan.

But at last the news came that there would be no resumption and Kerevi was clear to come home, which in turn presented the reality of hotel quarantine, which was enforced in Australia from March 28 onwards.

A quick look at Kerevi's Instagram shows how busy he's been keeping. There was an adjustment period, certainly, and some 1pm sleep-ins to start, but realizing they needed some activities to pass the time, he and friend Jayden Ngamanu got their time trial on ... between the door and the window.

"We had a five-kilometre time trial and then a couple of days ago I was like well why don't we just do a 1.2-kilometre time trial, so we did that as well," Kerevi said with a chuckle. "It was a bit slower than everyone else's outside but it gets us active, it gets us competitive and gives us something to do.

"Zoo fitness, I think it's probably the toughest thing that we've been doing because when we first started doing it I didn't know what the timing was; so I was like we go for 10 minutes straight, 30 seconds on 30 seconds off. So we did that and moved onto 15 minutes and now it's at 30 minutes. It's something to do to pass the time, and it makes you feel good because you can have a shower afterwards and then lie on the bed and watch movies or have a snack.

"I actually brought my blender in my suitcase because I knew I would want to make a smoothie. So I've been having smoothies throughout the day; we were having pancakes for breakfast but I've switched to smoothies now because we're trying to stay light while we're here. We're just trying different things."

It had also given Kerevi some time to think about Australian rugby's current problems.

"It's been pretty hard to watch and hear about because I have a lot of mates who have been affected by that," Kerevi said of the pay cuts and general uncertainty in the game. "I just can't believe the timing of it all, I am very blessed to be over playing in Japan.

"I really hope Australian rugby and Rugby Australia sort it all out, because I know a lot of boys who have been affected by it. They are trying to stay positive. But just the uncertainty of it all is hard to take and my heart goes out to them, because I know how much they sacrifice for their clubs and for their nation.

"But this is happening to everyone all around the world; they are having their jobs cut and they don't have work anymore. They've got to go on [income support], it's just really tough for everyone. For me, my family's so important and this is where you really come together, where you really help each other out, and if you know some people who aren't doing so well, you can help them out with their groceries or whatever."

Kerevi will emerge from quarantine in another week, a prospect he is already dreaming about - the ability to go for a run, or at least a run that isn't conducted on a seven-metre slice of carpet.

What chance then that he could lace them up for the Reds in Australia's planned domestic Super Rugby competition? Or perhaps even back in Brisbane club rugby?

"That'd be crazy wouldn't it. I would love to have a run, that'd be awesome," Kerevi said with enthusiasm when asked about a run with the Reds. "But I just don't know what's going on with that competition, I heard it might start in July or June or something. I've been watching a lot of their games and they've been playing so well.

"But I think if I was going to play, it might just be a club game. That has crossed my mind because we have got such a long time off, it kind of depends on what time club rugby [kicks off]. But Suntory is the boss, at the end of the day I would have to get the green light from them.

"But it would be pretty fun to jump back on the park, especially in club rugby in Brissy and to get around with the boys. But at the end of the day Suntory is the boss and right now I am just focused on getting out of this hotel."

Just seven more days then. And a handful more hotel time trials.