Joe Ansbro suffers broken neck in pre-season game


If the point of pre-season warm-up matches is to help players hit their optimum fitness levels ahead of a new campaign, things are not going to plan amongst the Premiership fraternity.

Joe Ansbro, the Scotland centre who left Northampton for London Irish last season and was expected to play a significant role for the Exiles this time round, may be incapacitated until Christmas after breaking a bone in his neck during a preparatory fixture against Munster at the weekend.

News of Ansbro's misfortune emerged a day after a second Exiles club, newly-promoted London Welsh, confirmed that Gavin Henson, their big-name summer signing, would miss the opening weeks of the season after suffering a fractured jaw during a run-out against Scarlets, the Welsh regional side.

Henson, whose recent career has been blighted as much by injury as by a variety of off-field shenanigans, may not turn out for his latest club until the end of October.

Ansbro is still in the care of specialists at University Hospital in Cork. Medical staff diagnosed a triple fracture of a vertebrae at the top of the spine and, while they decided there was no need for immediate surgery, they were reluctant to discharge the player, who may be forced to stay in Ireland until the end of the week.

London Irish could not put a date on their 26-year-old midfielder's likely return to the game, but James Robson, the Scotland team doctor, had a very clear idea.

"The management of the injury Joe has sustained typically involves a period of six to eight weeks' immobilisation, followed by a further four to six weeks of rehabilitation," he said. Ansbro will certainly miss his country's autumn international meetings with New Zealand, South Africa and Tonga.

"The doctors have put a metal halo on his head and that will have to stay in place, 24/7, for three months," said Ansbro's father, Paul, painting a more pessimistic picture.

"Joe has had a CAT scan and an MRI scan and he has a neurosurgeon looking after him. He's very lucky to have suffered what they call a 'stable fracture', with no nerve damage. He still has movement in his hands and feet.

"Rugby is a fantastic game and a rough one. These things can't be ruled out, unfortunately. But it's something that worries every parent. Your blood runs cold when you hear about it."