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'Halo' discarded as Ansbro begins his rehabilitation

AS excruciating as the pain was that Joe Ansbro felt when he broke his neck playing for London Irish against Munster in a pre-season friendly, the Scotland centre maintains that was nothing compared to his torturous rehabilitation.

Joe Ansbro: halo made life hell
Joe Ansbro: halo made life hell

Whereas many victims of a serious injury experience a blackout, Ansbro remembers every detail of his head-first tackle on Casey Laulala that led to a triple fracture of his C1 vertebra in vivid detail. The pain, however agonising, was at least an assurance to Ansbro that he was not paralysed – a scenario he says never crossed his mind.

"I just remember a pretty intense pain on top of my forehead and at the back of my neck," he said. "I was moving around quite a lot but at no point did I think I had broken my neck."

Ansbro returned to his club this week having spent the majority of his rehab at his family's home in Kirkcudbright. At such an early stage in his recovery, it is impossible to set a date on when he might set foot on a rugby field again.

What is certain, however, is that the worst is behind him. For 10 of the past 12 weeks, Ansbro has had to wear a "halo" which, despite its angelic connotations, has made his life a hell.

"The halo is a bit like a cage," Ansbro said. "You have four screws that go about 5mm into your skull. "The process is not very nice because it is just local anaesthetic. It is a bit like having your head in a vice as two doctors screw it up.

"It fixes your neck so if I turn my head then everything turns with me so you can't nod. That was the worst part of it and I was pretty happy to have it removed. I got to keep it and now have it on a mannequin at home."

One of the first visitors to his Maidenhead home was Andy Robinson, the Scotland coach, who also witnessed another one of his players, Thom Evans, break his neck in the 2010 Six Nations Championship.

While Evans was unable to play rugby again, the example of those who have overcome serious setbacks, such as Scotland captain Kelly Brown, have been an inspiration to Ansbro in his recovery.

"Andy offered up Thom Evans' experience and drew some good anecdotes and gave some very decent advice at a time which was quite soon after the injury," he added.

"Kelly had never been injured until earlier this year and then he was out for nearly a year. Then he was back playing at the same ground [Treviso] where he suffered the injury and, psychologically, it must be tough, but he had some good advice that 10 minutes into the game you forget all about it.

"I have been out of the halo for two weeks and I am pretty much working on range movement which has improved a lot. There's still a long way to go but it has been encouraging so far."

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