December 16, 2010
Julian Huxley celebrates on his return to action with the Brumbies © Getty Images
With Gavin Henson's much-publicised comeback apparently around the corner, we've taken a look back at some more high-profile returns in our latest Scrum Seven.
Julian Huxley - Brumbies
Huxley's return to action as the Brumbies snatched a thrilling late win over the Chiefs in this year's Super 14 was a major lift for a franchise still coming to terms with the tragic death of second-rower Shawn Mackay. A former Wallaby, Huxley was diagnosed with a brain tumour after suffering a seizure during a game again the Reds in 2008. He underwent radiation therapy to rid himself of the problem, but found the path back to the field blocked by medical advice on a number of occasions. After finally receiving the green light to get some game-time with the Brumby Runners development side he was fast-tracked back into a stuttering first-team in time to help his side past the Chiefs - receiving a standing ovation from the crowd at Canberra Stadium when introduced from the bench. Huxley ended the season with another fresh start - he signed for the Melbourne Rebels start-up side and will be present and correct for next year's Super Rugby campaign.
Jonah Lomu - Cardiff Blues
Lomu's return to rugby with Cardiff Blues is a mere footnote in one of the sport's greatest careers, but it nevertheless highlighted remarkable determination from the legendary All Black wing. A towering presence in the early days of professionalism, the giant lit up the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa and became the game's most recognisable face. Working against him was a debilitating kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome, which reared its head in 1996 and prevented him from recreating the feats of his early career. In 2004 he was forced to undergo a kidney transplant and in 2005 surfaced in Cardiff where he proved that the rugby public was still in love with the Lomu legend by drawing huge crowds to the Arms Park. An ankle injury cut short his time in Wales and a second comeback came in the lower leagues of French rugby with Marseille, but Lomu had made his mark, if only briefly.
Tony O'Reilly - Ireland
One of the all-time great Lions and a giant in Irish business, O'Reilly shares the record for the longest Five Nations career - 15 years and 23 days - with fellow Ireland legend Mike Gibson. O'Reilly made his debut against France in January 1955, months before he played a high-profile role in one of the greatest Lions series, against South Africa. His final Test cap came in 1970, against England at Twickenham, following a six-year absence from the elite stage. An 11th-hour replacement, O'Reilly's call-up denied Frank O'Driscoll, father of Ireland skipper Brian, his chance for a Test cap as the designated three-quarter replacement.
Jason Robinson - England
Robinson's decision to hang up his boots in the wake of the Lions' disastrous tour to New Zealand in 2005 followed a disheartening spell in the English game, where the highs of 2003 were followed by a slide into mediocrity. In 2007, and with the defence of their title approaching, England coach Brian Ashton coaxed Robinson out of retirement, simultaneously providing a spark in a side that had been treading water. Their subsequent route to the final was as slipshod as it was unlikely but it proved the worth of an iron will and teamwork. Robinson was to the fore and ended the tournament with a rapturous reception as he left the field in the final clutching a shoulder injury. He signed off from the elite game with victory for the Barbarians over South Africa later that year, enjoying a short spell as a coach at Sale before making another playing comeback in National Two North with Fylde - also coached by that man Ashton.
Martyn Williams - Wales
Wales' dismal exit from the 2007 Rugby World Cup to Fiji provoked an extreme response from venerable flanker Williams, who announced his retirement from the international game two days after the final whistle in Nantes. One of Wales' most celebrated modern players, he left a gaping hole at openside, one that newly-appointed coach Warren Gatland was keen to fill as the clock ticked over into 2008. Williams' own doubts had surfaced as he scored a solo try for the Barbarians against the Springboks at Twickenham. "That Barbarians match was when it really hit home,'' he said. "There I was playing again on what was virtually the international stage. Coming away from there I was thinking to myself: 'Christ, I'm never going to do that again. I've really missed it'." After words with the new boss he ended one of the game's shortest retirements and started Wales' Six Nations campaign in his familiar No.7 jersey - promptly winning a Grand Slam and setting the seal on it with the winning try in the decider against France.
Steve Thompson - Brive
Thompson was forced to end a highly successful career with Northampton and England on medical advice in April 2007 following a neck injury sustained on Heineken Cup duty with the Saints. England's World Cup-winning hooker, his absence from the game was almost as short as Williams' as he bravely rejoined the elite ranks with Brive after seeking further medical advice. Thompson had been set to join the coaching structure at the Top 14 club but instead paid back a substantial insurance claim to rekindle his playing career. He was rewarded with further international honours following Martin Johnson's appointment as England manager in 2008 and returned to the Premiership with Leeds prior to the 2010-11 season.
Brad Thorn - New Zealand
Bridging the league-union divide was apparently a trifling matter to Thorn, who opted to make it interesting by turning out for Australia in the 13-man code before making his first dent in international union with the All Blacks. Having put aside fears over his commitment to the 15-man game in 2003 Thorn made his Test bow and played at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, only to jump ship back to league with former club Brisbane Broncos in 2005. To complete the cycle he again crossed the Tasman to sign with the NZRU in 2007 - becoming an All Black regular for the first time in his career and racking up a 50th cap against Wales in November 2010.
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