NEWS that Ross Rennie has been forced to hang up his boots after failing to recover from a neck injury will have been greeted with a profound sense of sadness throughout Scottish rugby.
There will also be a deep feeling of regret that a cruel injury curse prevented one of the most likeable and talented players of a generation from fully realising his undoubted potential.
Rennie earned the last of his 20 international caps against New Zealand in November 2012, and left Edinburgh to join Bristol Rugby in January 2014, initially on loan before signing a two-year contract last summer.
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However, the 28-year-old never gave up hope of running out at Murrayfield again and, if he could stay injury free for more than a few months, then there was no reason to doubt that the flanker would achieve this goal.
Sadly, a neck injury sustained last October has failed to mend fully and, as a result, the player was forced yesterday to accept that his time as a professional rugby player has come to an end.
“I think it’s just a case of the body giving up a bit. I’ve had a problem with my neck for several months and it’s not getting any better. It’s a sad situation which I don’t think anyone is very pleased about – but Bristol have been brilliant with me and I can’t thank them enough for everything they have done,” he told The Scotsman last night.
“I’ve tried really hard to get back but it has become increasingly clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen, so I just have to accept that and get on with the rest of my life.
“I’m going to take a bit of time out – perhaps a few months – and analyse what I want to do in the future. Then I’ll take it from there.
“The neck problem is not going away but it has settled down a bit, so hopefully it won’t affect my everyday life. I just can’t carry on putting it under the stress which it is put under when you play rugby,” he added.
Rennie said that he isn’t sure yet whether he wants to stay in the professional game, or focus on putting something back into the sport at grassroots level. However, he does not see himself walking away from rugby altogether.
“It is all I know so it would be silly to think that I would not stay involved in some shape or form,” he said.
Rennie learned his rugby at Edinburgh Academy before joining Stewart’s Melville FP and signing an apprentice contract with his home city’s professional club. He represented Scotland throughout the 2006 Junior World Cup and played on the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit before starting at open-side flanker in Edinburgh’s first five matches of the 2006-07 season.
He made his full Scotland debut as a replacement against Ireland at Croke Park in February 2008, but hurt his knee in that match and played fewer than four matches during the subsequent 20 months. He admitted later that this almost forced him out of the game. He underwent two operations and a premature comeback before finally putting that issue behind him.
He did not play again for Scotland until November 2010, when he was a replacement for Kelly Brown during Scotland’s 49-3 defeat to New Zealand at Murrayfield. He played in all but four of Scotland’s next 23 matches – including four out of five of their 2011 World Cup games, and the entire 2012 RBS Six Nations – before dislocating his shoulder against New Zealand in his last international outing.
That setback initially side-lined him for six months, but his comeback lasted only two games before he suffered a recurrence of the injury, and it wasn’t until midway through last season that he managed to make it back into the Edinburgh team.
However, his face no longer seemed to fit under new head coach Alan Solomons, so, after 91 appearances during nine seasons with the capital outfit, a deal was struck to reunite the flanker with Andy Robinson, his old mentor at both Edinburgh and Scotland, who is now director of rugby at Bristol. He played 13 times for the West Country outfit and scored seven tries.
“We’re sad to see Ross’ career cut short by injury because he has been an influential player for us over the past 12 months,” said Robinson yesterday.
“I’ve worked with Ross from a young age and, at his peak, he was one of the best openside flankers in the Northern Hemisphere – a world-class performer. Unfortunately, injuries have hampered Ross’ progress, but his attitude and willingness to learn has not been dampened. He can leave the sport proud of his international achievements and with some great memories.”
Rennie was clearly upset and frustrated as he spoke about the end of his career yesterday, but he was determined not to be defeated by something which was never in his control.
“I’ve had a few problems with injures over the years and the reason I always worked so hard to come back after those injuries was that I always wanted to have another opportunity to experience that sense of occasion of playing in a big game with my mates,” he reflected.
“The lifestyle of a rugby player and all that kind of stuff was great as well, but it was the thought of playing in those big matches which always kept me going.”
“Obviously, it’s disappointing to stop playing the game that I love. However, I feel very fortunate that the sport has given me the opportunity to travel the world, meet new people and represent my country, something that I’m immensely proud of.”
“I would like to thank everybody who has had an influence during my career: players, fans, strength and conditioning coaches, rugby coaches, and all the medical staff who have been brilliant.”
“Lastly, I would like to thank my family for being incredibly supportive throughout my time playing rugby.”