Hospitalised: Joe Ansbro is recovering in a Cork hopsital after breaking his neck Photo: AP
By Mick Cleary
His father, Paul, expressed the deep-rooted fears of many when he said: “Your blood runs cold when you hear about it and it’s something that every parent worries about.”
He added that there was “nothing malicious” in the incident in which his son took contact when contesting a ball. “It’s a fantastic rough game and these things unfortunately cannot be ruled out.”
The player remains in hospital in Cork but is expected to be able to fly home later this week. Initial fears that he might have suffered a catastrophic injury were to be allayed.
“He was really lucky that it was what they call a stable fracture and there’s no nerve damage,” said Paul Ansbro. “Joe has still got movement in his hands and feet. He’s got a triple fracture of the C1 vertebra at the top of his spine. They’ve put a metal halo on his head and that’s got to be in place 24/7 for three months.”
The incident will have triggered unwelcome memories for many Scotland followers of the career-ending injury of another back-line player, Thom Evans, who was within a millimetre of paralysis following an accidental clash with Wales full-back Lee Byrne in 2010. Evans, whose brother Max still plays for Scotland, never recovered sufficiently to be able to contemplate carrying on with his rugby career. He was among many in the game who tweeted their sympathy and best wishes yesterday.
“Just woke up to news of Joe Ansbro,” tweeted Evans, who has gone to Los Angeles to try to forge a career in film alongside his partner, model and actress Kelly Brook. “My thoughts are very much with him and his family. I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Evans was treated by Scotland team doctor James Robson, who will also help oversee Ansbro’s recovery programme. “The management of the injury Joe has sustained typically involves a period of between six to eight weeks immobilisation, then a further four to six weeks of rehabilitation before he can look at a return to the game,” said Robson.
Ansbro, 26, has just established himself as an important element in the national team. He made his international debut against South Africa two years ago and was part of the Scotland squad that went to the World Cup in New Zealand 12 months ago. He scored a try in the opening game against Romania and partnered Sean Lamont in midfield for Scotland’s final game of that tournament, the 16-12 pool defeat by England in Auckland.
Ansbro, who switched clubs from Northampton to London Irish a year ago, is a forceful presence on the field, and scored a try in Scotland’s last match, the 17-16 victory over Samoa in Apia. His contribution to that unbeaten tour, however, might be best remembered for an incident that has become a YouTube hit, the accidental head-butting clash with fearsome flanker Alasdair Strokosch. The pair came running in from opposite directions to join a huddle of Scotland players exultant at the final whistle of their 9-6 win over Australia. The two collided and fell backwards with a gash appearing over Ansbro’s eye.
The damage that day was superficial. Sadly, Ansbro was not as fortunate this time.