England and Leicester flanker Tom Croft has revealed how close he came to being paralysed after breaking his neck in the spring.
The 27-year-old made his return for the Tigers against Worcester on Friday, eight months after a mis-timed tackle in their match against Harlequins almost cost him his career.
Crofts' neck was forced down into his own chest as he suffered a triple fracture of his C6 vertebra.
"Even a month before I came back it was still a case of: 'Is this going to be all right?"' he told the Guardian. "I did worry when, after the operation, the specialist said how close it had been to being quite severe and that I'd come as close as you can to being paralysed. When he told me that it hit home. You start thinking: 'Is this the right thing to do?"'.
Croft was left needing a neck brace for eight weeks, which he had to wear 24 hours a day.
"You could take it off when you were in the shower but even gently washing your hair hurt," he added.
"You become very helpless and I was lucky to have my fiancee Harriet there. It probably tested our relationship because I'd try and do everything myself to the point of excruciating pain, before I'd actually concede I needed her help.
"Maybe it cemented the foundations of our relationship a bit better."
His anxiety was not helped after his return to action kept being put back, with Croft initially pencilled in for a November return.
"It was frustrating," he said. "At the outset I thought I'd be back at the start of November and it was gutting not to be involved in England's victory over the All Blacks.
"But, if anything, it gave me a bit more time to get my head right. You think: 'The club are paying my salary, the specialist has his reputation to think about. They're not going to let me re-take the field until there's no risk."
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