Rugby’s deepening concern and sensitivity over the lasting effects of injuries to head and neck intensified today when the Scotland international flanker Ross Rennie retired from the sport on medical advice at the distressingly early age of 28.
Rennie, who joined Bristol from Edinburgh a year ago, was one of the grand old West Country club’s building blocks in their challenge for a return to the Premiership, but fitness problems restricted him to just 13 appearances.
Capped 20 times by his country – he played at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand – Rennie was hurt during Bristol’s second-tier Championship victory over Moseley in October and was said by the club at the time to be consulting a neurologist. Bristol did not identify the precise nature of the problem in their statement announcing the back-rower’s retirement, but Rennie confirmed it was a neck issue rather than the result of cumulative concussions.
It is a grievous blow for Bristol, even though they have the Samoan international Jack Lam on their books. Rennie, first capped in 2005, developed strongly under the guidance of the former England coach Andy Robinson, who worked with him at Edinburgh and in the Scotland set-up.
“We’re sad to see Ross’s career cut short – he’s been an influential player for us over the last 12 months,” Robinson said. “At his peak, he was a world-class performer.”
Rennie said he felt privileged to have played at professional level, adding: “Rugby gave me the opportunity to travel the world and represent my country, of which I’m immensely proud.”
Neighbouring Bath, who face a must-win European Champions Cup match with the four-time winners Toulouse in France on Sunday, are hoping two of their most talked-about backs, the England wing Anthony Watson and the cross-code signing Sam Burgess, will recover from knocks in time to make the trip. There is also some concern over the back-row forward Carl Fearns, although the return to fitness of Matt Garvey and the exceptional Springbok flanker Francois Louw offsets the problem to a significant degree.