Spine injury forces Thom Evans to retire from rugby

THOM Evans has been forced to retire from rugby after accepting medical advice that he could never rediscover the feats that made him an international star following the serious spinal injury he suffered in the RBS Six Nations Championship in February.

• The moment of impact during the Wales v scotland six Nations match in February that left Thom Evans needing operations on his spine. Picture: David Davies/PA

The 25-year-old winger seriously damaged two vertebrae in an awkward collision with Lee Byrne in the international between Wales and Scotland at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. He was stretchered off the field in a neck brace and as the severity of his condition emerged it was reported that the on-field care by physios and Dr James Robson, the experienced Scottish medic, had played a significant role in ensuring he did not suffer permanent paralysis.

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Evans underwent an operation within hours of the game and was given the option of further surgery to stabilise his spine later in the week, but aware that this would severely limit his chances of returning to the athletic fitness and movement necessary to play again at the top level of international sport.

In the four months since the operations, he has impressed family, friends and teammates with his desire and commitment to return to full health and while he still cannot sprint at the speeds with which he once shredded Test defences he has been walking and jogging for some time.

Evans spoke of his longing to play rugby again were it possible, but knew virtually from the moment he went under the surgeon's knife that that was unlikely. He was unavailable for comment yesterday, as he was at Wimbledon watching Andy Murray's performance on Centre Court, but The Scotsman understands that he has informed family and friends that he will not defy medical opinion, with the further complications that would bring of trying to find insurance to resume a professional career, and is content to hang up his boots and look at different career options.

Roger Baird, a Scotland winger of the 1980s and a mentor to Evans through the 'Winning Scotland' programme, said: "It is devastating for Thom because all you want to do is play top-class rugby for as long as you can, and there is no doubt he would have contributed a lot to Scottish rugby in the years to come.

"It is also a huge blow for the Scottish game and the Glasgow and Scotland teams because we just don't have players with his searing out-and-out pace. "Although he was quite late to rugby we spoke a lot about his defence, positioning and other things and he took them all on and didn't make the same mistake twice. He is genuinely brave and strong, with good intelligence for the game, and I could only see him getting better.

"But you also have to get things into perspective," Baird added. "The great thing is that Thom is able to walk. I have a good friend David Millar, who recently hand-cycled around New Zealand to raise money for spinal research after spending the last 20 years in a wheelchair, on account of him suffering a spinal injury in a rugby match when he was just a bit younger than Thom.

"Thom knows that very well. He and a lot of the Glasgow and Scotland players were very good friends with Nick Watt, the Merchiston Castle pupil who suffered a spinal injury, going to visit him and offering their support, so Thom knows what could have happened too.

"But he is a very personable lad and he will do well in whatever he does. Scottish rugby will be the worse for his decision, but he didn't have a choice at the end of the day. I wish him well."

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