SCOTLAND centre Joe Ansbro has announced his retirement from the game following medical advice that he could not return to rugby safely after suffering a serious injury last year.
The 27-year-old suffered a spinal fracture playing for London Irish at Munster in a pre-season friendly last August.
Initial fears that he would be paralysed were swiftly eased, but it remained clear that his playing career was in doubt. He worked through a tough rehabilitation programme to recover strength during the past season and retained a hope that he may be able to play rugby again. But he confirmed yesterday that medical opinion had persuaded him to put an end to that dream.
Ansbro said: “It’s with great sadness that I announce my retirement from professional rugby.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play top-level rugby for both Northampton Saints and London Irish. To gain international recognition with Scotland has been an immense honour. Victories over South Africa and Australia stand out.
“Playing this great game at the highest level is a privilege and I will always look back on my career with fond memories.”
Ansbro thanked his family and friends and the many players, staff, coaches, medics and supporters at Northampton, London Irish and with Scotland, paying particular tribute to the care and efforts of Dr James Robson at Murrayfield and James Peckitt, the London Irish physio.
The pacy and powerful centre/wing emerged at Northampton and was known to Scottish coaches in the south as having been born in Glasgow and brought up in Dumfries. He was educated at Gatehouse Primary School and then Stonyhurst College, and he went on to take a natural sciences degree at Cambridge University. While living near Gatehouse of Fleet, he played youth rugby with Stewartry in Castle Douglas and left Stonyhurst for Cambridge University, where he played in the Varsity Match against Wallaby star Joe Roff, among others.
Andy Robinson was the first Scotland coach to benefit from Ansbro’s talent, inviting him to tour with the Scotland A team to Romania for the IRB Nations Cup in June, 2009, where he made his debut against Uruguay and helped Scotland lift their first real trophy since the 1999 Five Nations Championship.
He went on to win 11 caps for Scotland, his last coming in a try-scoring 17-16 win over Samoa in Apia last summer. With wins over Australia and South Africa, Ansbro enjoyed more highlights than many Scotland internationalists who have had far longer careers.
He also scored a vital try in the 10-6 Murrayfield victory over Ireland in August 2011 and Scotland’s first World Cup try of 2011 against Romania.
He was believed to be the first black player to represent Scotland at full Test level, though that was debated as Alfred Clunies-Ross, who played in the first international match between Scotland and England in 1871, was half-Malay, having been born in the Cocos Islands.
Ansbro was certainly a popular member of the squad and a player Scotland supporters would have wished to have seen more of in the navy jersey.
He will also be remembered by many around the world, and on YouTube for years to come, for his infamous “head-butt” with Alasdair Strokosch last June, amid emotional celebrations at the final whistle of Scotland’s first victory over the Wallabies down under in 40 years, which left him requiring 48 stitches for a deep cut.
Scotland captain Kelly Brown said: “Joe has been a truly talented rugby player and an all-round good guy. I’m sure we’ll miss him but, equally, I’m delighted that he’ll be able to get on with normal life outside rugby. Good luck Joe.”
Dr Robson said: “Joe has been an absolute delight to work with over his three-year senior international career.
“He is an extremely talented young man both on and off the pitch and though it is very sad that he will have to retire from rugby, I know, without a doubt that he will do well in whatever he does next. I wish him and his partner, Kylie, the very best of luck in the future.”
London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith added: “This is incredibly sad news for Joe and for everyone at London Irish. He has remained extremely committed to the club during his injury and his presence around the squad has been a huge lift for all the players.
“He is a very intelligent and articulate young man and I have no doubt that he will be as committed to his next career as he has been to rugby. Everyone at the club wishes Joe all the best for the future.”