Thom Evans sparkled during brief career sadly halted in its prime by injury

WHEN Thom Evans agreed to have a steel rod inserted into his back just days after his tenth Scotland international had ended prematurely on a stretcher he knew the chances of his rugby career continuing were most likely over.

He was just 24 when, chasing a kick ahead that had brought Scotland supporters to their feet around Cardiff's deafening cauldron of a Millennium Stadium, roaring him on, he crashed head-first into the lower torso of Lee Byrne, the Wales and British and Irish Lions full-back and his life changed forever.

There was nothing malicious in the tackle. Byrne arrived at the ball fractionally after Evans but the Scot refused to relent in his desire to grasp it. Evans was left prone on the ground as play continued elsewhere, and though he tried to move and begin to get to his feet he knew instantly there was a serious problem.

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In an interview in April, he said: "I went down hard. It was a big one. I've never felt anything like it before. I couldn't move at all. As it sunk in that I couldn't make my arms move I knew how serious it was and it was terrifying.

"When I regained movement after a few seconds I was so relieved, but then I felt a pain between my shoulder blades. It was like a bullet had ripped through me. I could talk but I was breathing so quickly it felt like my insides were being crushed."

He has spoken of how he was told that there would have been definite paralysis had the injury occurred a millimetre further away and it was not until both operations were complete that he knew he would be able to walk again.

He had a metal plate inserted into his chest while the second operation, to give him a better chance of walking, required a metal rod to be put in to stabilise his spine. That ended all hopes of a return to the top level of rugby, but the speed and depth of his recovery has surprised doctors to the extent that he is hopeful of being able to enjoy some sport in the future.

Yesterday, Evans was enjoying tennis at Wimbledon, having made the trip to support fellow Scot Andy Murray and thank him for the message of goodwill he provided as part of a video produced by Scotland captains Chris Cusiter and Al Kellock to help in Evans' recovery.

While Evans is understood to have told friends and families of his intention to bow out the game, an SRU spokesman refused to confirm or deny that Evans had retired. He stated only: "Everybody connected with Scottish Rugby (the SRU] and Glasgow are delighted with the progress Thom has made since his accident."

Evans was born in Harare to Sally, a leading South African athlete, and Brian, a top golfer who had experienced the Open Championship. His grandfather, Fred Thom, hailed from Glasgow, however, and proved to be a huge inspiration on the lives of Thom and his brother Max. His name is taken from his grandfather and when the pair boarded at Wellington College in Berkshire he would take them to rugby at weekends and instill in them his own love of the game and of Scotland.

Thom was a recognised flyer from an early age and ran in English Counties athletics meetings and played for England at under-16, under-18 and under-19 levels, with injury ruling him out of a sevens appearance south of the Border.

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He surprisingly opted to take a year out of the game at 18, answering an ad for musicians to form a new band, and duly hit the boyband touring circuit with twen2y4Se7en, supporting such headline acts as Westlife, Peter Andre and McFly. He says he always intended to return to rugby, however, and did so in 2004 with Wasps in the Guinness Premiership.

Though just 19 and fresh back into the sport, he grew disillusioned with his lack of 1st XV opportunities and when Glasgow came calling in 2006 he decided the time was right to follow the road to the home of his grandfather. His brother Max was in Portugal at this time, helping ease a back problem and securing his professional golfer's card while working at his father Brian's golf resort.

But Thom persuaded Glasgow coach Sean Lineen to take a look at him too and after a brief trial with Glasgow Hawks Lineen duly signed him up in 2007 and the duo have become two of the most popular players with Glasgow and Scotland.

The brothers have a particularly well-known admirer in DJ Chris Evans, a cousin of their father's, and he has often had them on his radio show and turned up to watch them at games. He was at the Millennium Stadium in February when Thom suffered his injury, kicking for goal at half-time, and kept listeners to his show updated as Thom's condition improved.

But the Evans' appeal has been wide and varied. After becoming the 20th set of brothers to play for Scotland, Thom and Max went on to become pin-up boys of Scottish rugby, Thom joining Chris Paterson and Ross Ford in adorning the front of Scott's Porage Oats boxes, attending ‘Tartan Week' in the USA as the guest of Sir Sean Connery and the brothers even appearing in this year's famously risqu French sports calendar, ‘Dieux du Stade' - ‘Stadium Gods' - produced by Stade Francais rugby owner Max Gauzzini and a top-seller among women in France.

However, the brothers' innate speed, skills and competitive but easygoing natures have made them even more popular on the field of play. Thom has scored 22 tries in 60 matches for Glasgow and after he made his Test debut against Argentina in June, 2008, Max followed in November of that year, coming off the bench against Canada.

They turned down repeated advances from English and French clubs to leave Glasgow in 2009. With Thom very unlucky not to be selected for the Lions tour last summer, there was only growing expectation of the Evans' influence in years to come.

For Max that remains the case, but Thom is now turning his thoughts to other aspirations away from the rugby field.