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Lamenting Finn Russell's absence and finding 'gratitude' after an almost fatal neck injury

Former Scotland international Thom Evans suffered a serious neck injury in 2010.

FORMER SCOTLAND INTERNATIONAL Thom Evans knew his injury was serious when he couldn’t feel any sensation in his feet.

thom-evans Thom Evans was lucky to survive a neck injury while playing for Scotland in 2010. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The then-winger had been removed from the field of play after a collision with Wales’ Lee Byrne in the 2010 Six Nations.

His worries about the situation deepened when, lying in the operating room, he saw tears rolling down the cheeks of the team doctor James Robson.

Evans was used to seeing the rugby physician incline towards shaking off injuries where possible. But this was an alarming scene.

“He’s a pretty hard character,” Evans recalls of the aftermath of that injury which ultimately ended his international rugby career at just 24.

“He’s old school. To see him crying beside himself was a real eye-opener for me.”

As the 2020 edition of the Six Nations tournament commences, Evans looks healthy and is showing no visible effects of that traumatic neck injury.

He underwent two surgeries as part of a lengthy rehabilitation and was confined to the bed for six months.

Recognising how lucky he is to be fully mobile, Evans shakes his head as he reveals that his brother Max actually has more problems with his neck from his own rugby career.

It wasn’t until after the incident with Byrne that Evans discovered how close he came to death. A surgeon had to inform him that even the slightest movement at the time could have killed him.

And yet, here he is today without even a scratch to show as evidence of the day he almost died.

It was millimetres from severing [the] spinal cord. I think, with rugby, with games of that magnitude, it’s amazing they take such protocol in any kind of neck injuries because on the off chance there’s an injury of that calibre.

“I was just grateful because had it been a pub game, I probably would’ve been paralysed for sure.”

There was some understandable frustration to work through, as Evans accepted that his playing days for Scotland were over.

rugby-union-rbs-6-nations-championship-2010-wales-v-scotland-millennium-stadium Evans being stretchered off after the collision with Lee Byrne. Source: Stephen Pond

He returned to play some Sevens rugby five years later but there was to be no miracle comeback for him.

Avoiding life-altering spinal injuries empowered him to gain some perspective over time, and he still plays rugby at a more casual pace these days. But it took some time for him to be able to watch a game of rugby again.

“It is tough because I think my career was cut short prematurely. It was all I ever wanted to do. When I had finally solidified myself in the national team, it was sadly taken from me.

“I’m so ever grateful that I made the recovery that I did, but I’d be lying if I said it was [easy]. It’s easier now but for those first six years, it was really hard. You see team-mates, I see my brother Max still playing for Scotland, and it was a real tough one to swallow.

I think gratitude [is important]. I’m just grateful because one thing I realised from lying in bed for the six months that I was, that as long as you have health in your life, that’s all that really matters.

“Yes, it was incredibly frustrating to find out I was never going to play again, but I was just so grateful to be walking, to be running. I spend quite a bit of time in LA now and I have a league where I play tag rugby every Tuesday and Sunday and I count my lucky stars every time I’m able to [play] because some aren’t lucky enough like that.”

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Looking towards Scotland’s Six Nations opener against Ireland later today [KO, 4.45pm], Evans cautions that his home nation will need to muster an “exceptional performance” to keep in touch with Ireland.

Gregord Townsend’s side go into that trip to the Aviva Stadium without their talismanic out-half Finn Russell, who is being disciplined for breaking a “team protocol.”

The Scottish Rugby Union say that Russell’s breach took place during a pre-Six Nations camp in Edinburgh and he has been sent back to his club, Racing 92.

Evans previously said that Russell is a player he would have loved to have played with, and is hopeful that this situation will be resolved to allow the star player return to the squad. 

But he also appreciates the reasons for releasing Russell from the camp. 

“I have a lot of respect for Finn and Gregor Townsend. I feel Gregor had to do what he did. Team protocol is team protocol and you can’t change that for anyone. I just know it means the world to Finn to represent his country, like any other player.

“It would be good to know what went on, but that aside, I think the team have really hustled together and hopefully it’s brought them tighter.”

scotland-v-france-international-friendly-bt-murrayfield Finn Russell in action for Scotland in 2019. Source: Ian Rutherford

In Russell’s absence, Glasgow’s Adam Hastings has been drafted in for the clash with Ireland.

Evans says Hastings can handle the pressure of coming in as Russell’s replacement, and is excited to see what he can bring to the team as he hopes that Scotland can finish the Six Nations in fourth place.

However, there are some aspects of Russell’s maverick game that Evans feels are irreplaceable. 

“He can do things that I haven’t seen any other 10 do in the game. With Finn, above everything else, love him or hate him, he does things outside the box.

“He’s willing to risk doing it. I think in my time playing for Scotland, we had great 10s but they really played by the book and were slightly afraid to throw that long pass or give it a go when in times you didn’t see an option to do that.

“He’s certainly a massive loss and I just hope they can figure out the differences that’s happened to allow him to be back in the squad because Finn Russell in the squad is a much better Scotland set-up.”

As part of the 2020 Six Nations, Guinness will host a series of events and experiences in venues and locations across the country. Visit www.Guinness.com to find out more throughout the Championship.

Tommy Bowe and Thom Evans hosted the first of the Guinness Six Nations experiences.

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