Torn Achilles forces Powell to call it a day

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The Independent Online

The perils of modern professional rugby – perils that by common consent verge on the unreasonable – were illustrated in the most graphic terms once again yesterday when the Cardiff Blues prop Gary Powell, a first-choice player for much of his career with the reigning Amlin Challenge Cup champions, announced his retirement at 31, thereby following hard on the heels of two other players recently forced out of the game through injury: the Scotland international wing Thom Evans and the highly-rated Leicester lock Richard Blaze.

Powell's orthopaedic problem was comparatively humdrum, if excruciatingly painful: he tore his Achilles tendon during a Magners League game with Leinster back in March. Unfortunately, for the under-21 cap from the Rhondda Valley, he made a particularly good job of it, to the extent that his consultant saw no point in him attempting to resume his career.

"I've worked extremely hard to overcome this injury, but in the end the consultant advised me that my tendon would not stand up to the demands of playing rugby," said the Welshman, who also had spells with Richmond, Leeds and Gloucester. "It's hugely disappointing: from when I first started playing at Treherbert RFC, rugby has been a large part of my life, and I'll miss it massively." The Blues chief executive Robert Norster remarked on the misfortune of another sound professional career being shortened, with an emphasis on the word "another".

While the lion's share of public attention on rugby trauma is focused on the dramatic – Evans, the gifted Glasgow back, might easily have died after suffering a serious neck injury during his country's Six Nations defeat in Wales last February, and needed two major spinal operations just to put him back on his feet – it is the more routine fallout from this brutally hard sport that is of immediate concern to the International Rugby Board, who have been holding regular medical conferences for some three years now. Blaze, once regarded as a lock with a future at international level, gave up the ghost in October after failing to recover from a stress fracture of the foot suffered in 2008.

Ironically enough, Powell's announcement came hours after the New Zealand Rugby Foundation issued a statement celebrating the fact that none of the All Black nation's players had suffered a serious injury during the 2010 season, which ended with the national team's completion of a British Isles Grand Slam with victory over Wales in Cardiff 11 days ago. There was no hint of complacency, though. "Such injuries are only one false move away," said the foundation's chairman, Andrew Flexman. "We have to try to make the game safer."

Harlequins might agree with that last point. The London club announced yesterday that Ollie Smith, the former England centre who joined in the summer after two years in top-level French rugby, would miss the rest of the season after mangling his left knee during the Premiership defeat at Saracens three days ago. He is in need of surgery, after which he will undergo a lengthy spell of rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, the influential Ospreys flanker Marty Holah was appearing before a disciplinary panel in Cardiff last night charged with two offences arising from his side's Magners League victory over Edinburgh on Saturday. He was accused of tripping one opponent and "playing" another who was not in possession of the ball.

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