Fighting through the pain barrier
February 28, 2013
Manu Tuilagi's injured ear in all its glory © Getty Images
If ever you wanted proof of just how hard Manu Tuilagi is, then look no further than Saturday's clash between England and France. He suffered a lacerated ear in the opening stages of the match and rather than adhering to the doctor's advice and getting it stitched back on, he asked the medics to "just tape it up". The bloodied and bandaged Tuilagi went on to score the winning try and later required 19 stitches.
With Tuilagi's bravery in mind, this week's Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who have battled through the pain barrier for the good of their team.
In the match we now know as the 'Battle of Nantes', Shelford, in just his second Test for the Kiwis, found himself at the bottom of a ruck after about 20 minutes. One of the All Blacks' more physical players, the French forwards took a dislike to the No.8 and he was on the wrong end of a fair few punches. The result was that Shelford lost four teeth but arguably the greater damage occurred a little lower down. A stray boot found his groin-area and ripped his scrotum leaving one testicle out in the open.
Rather than falling to the turf in agony, as I am sure that 99% of men would do, he asked the physio to attend to his lower regions. In front of the watching crowd and national television, Shelford had his scrotum stitched up. After the procedure was completed he returned to the field and continued playing.
His match was eventually cut short due to being knocked out but he later summed up the whole ordeal saying: "I was knocked out cold, lost a few teeth and had a few stitches down below. It's a game I still can't remember... I don't really want to, either."
The Welsh centre is no stranger to injuries having only started a total of four games for the Cardiff Blues during the 2011-12 season but regardless of his recent run of bad luck, he knows what it takes to battle through the pain barrier. Back in 2008, Wales hosted the Wallabies at the Millennium Stadium and eventually beat Australia 21-18 thanks in part to the gutsy efforts of their wrecking ball of a centre.
The men in green and gold had to play 78 minutes without their inspirational centre Stirling Mortlock who initially appeared to be the only victim of a shuddering skull to skull clash with Roberts. However, after another 15 minutes the Welshman was substituted with subsequent scans revealing that he had suffered a fractured skull.
Wales doctor John Williams later explained the damage Roberts suffered saying: "I've never seen anything like this. It was a collision of heads at a certain angle with a certain momentum causing a crack. After the contact Stirling Mortlock looked like he had come off worse. Jamie was conscious throughout and there were no signs of anything, no suggestion of a fracture or any problem with his nose or eyes. The contact was with his forehead.
"And then the headache gradually came on as he was playing about five minutes after and we pulled him off as the headache got worse. He is a pretty tough guy. He texted the team and the team thanked him for taking Stirling Mortlock out of the game!"
Stirling Mortlock and Jamie Roberts feel the effects of their head clash © Getty Images
Worsley is renowned as one of England's greatest warriors and proof of this came back in the 2001-02 season. Wasps were taking on Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop and the flanker suffered a 'torn scrotum' - the flanker himself is the best man to describe how the eye-watering injury occurred.
"Jason Leonard did it actually, but it was an accident, I know the guy and he's a good friend, so he would never mean to do anything like that. I remember it in slow-motion, the sun was low and I saw Jason's huge 19 stone silhouette appear. I thought - this is going to be painful - but boy, I didn't know it was going to be along those lines."
Worsley was forced to leave the field but he made an astonishingly quick recovery. Complete with a cricket box protecting his stitched up scrotum, Worsley played eight days later in their Heineken Cup clash against Stade Francais.
Prior to the Wallabies' 2010 showdown with South Africa, the Australians were told to show more 'mongrel' and no one typified this warrior spirit more than lock Nathan Sharpe. In the 70th minute of the match he attempted to catch centre Jaque Fourie who was running through the Australian defence. While he failed to tackle the Boks centre, Fourie left a lasting impression on Sharpe with his stray boot catching the lock's mouth, knocking out one of his molars but he played on.
At the full-time whistle six of the Suncorp Stadium's ground staff were deployed to the pitch to find the stray tooth. Similar to the proverbial needle in the haystack, they managed to find it and Sharpe's tooth was later re-united with his jaw in the dentist's chair.
Voted 'New Zealand's Player of the Century' in 1999, Meads played 133 games for the All Blacks with 55 of them Tests. He was a sheep farmer by trade but when he was unleashed on to the field, he was the Kiwis' enforcer. While on tour in South Africa in 1970, New Zealand came up against an Eastern Transvaal side who had been reportedly told by then chairman of the South African Rugby Union, Danie Craven, to soften up the Kiwis. They targeted Meads and six minutes into the match, he sustained an arm injury.
He walked over to the side of the pitch in the 20th minute to have the injury evaluated but was informed that it was just bruised. He ended up playing the rest of the game with his left arm largely limp by his side - the New Zealanders won 24-3. Only after the game was the horrific nature of his injury unearthed.
Renowned New Zealand journalist Terry McLean later described the injury as 'the break that shook the world' - he had fractured his left forearm. Nicknamed 'Pinetree', Meads returned to action, complete with leather arm guard, less than five weeks later and played in nine of the Kiwis' remaining 10 tour games.
If you cast your eye back over the British & Irish Lions' illustrious history then there are numerous examples of matches where the 'warm-up' games have acted as an excuse for the Lions' opposition to rough up the famous touring side. In 2009 the Southern Kings adopted a physical mindset which involved plenty of late hits on the Lions. In 2001, it was the Waratahs who got stuck into the tourists.
Duncan McRae connects with Ronan O'Gara © PA Photos
The match saw one red card and five yellows with Duncan McRae sent-off for a violent assault on O'Gara in the 55th minute of the match. McRae landed 11 punches on the prone O'Gara and eventually copped a lenient seven-week suspension. Despite having a mushed face, O'Gara returned to the field three days later.
The Waratahs' intentions were clear; they wanted to weaken the Lions before they reached the Test series. "We really gave it to them. A lot of Lions will have sore bodies and I hope the Wallabies give them a real thrashing," 'Tahs skipper Phil Waugh said post-match.
He was very rarely injured, he won the World Cup, he helped down the Lions in 1993 and was one of the game's greatest ever players. Sean Fitzpatrick ticks all the boxes when it comes to rugby players - he can also take a punch and not bat an eyelid.
During an ill-tempered Test between Ireland and New Zealand in 1992, Fitzpatrick was involved in a tussle with Paddy Johns. Seeing his team-mate was in trouble, Ireland's Steve Smith came to Johns' rescue and tried to floor Fitzpatrick. Smith recalled: "I hit him square on the chin and I immediately thought "that's the last we'll see of him."
But unfortunately for Smith, he was wrong. In punching Fitzpatrick, he ripped the tendons in his first and the Kiwi continued playing, although he was a few ivories down. "He just spat bits of teeth into his hand," Smith continued. "He threw them to the ground and ran back onto the pitch.
"He just smiled at me and said "Looks like you've made a bit of a mess of your hand Smithy." To be honest, I didn't feel so good then. In fact, I spent the rest of the match looking over my shoulder."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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