It was the weekend for rugby comebacks. Loftus Versfeld, Salta and of course McLean Park, where Hawke’s Bay came back from 0-17 to score 45 unanswered points in their defeat of Manawatu. Ok, the last one’s a stretch, but as a local, it’s exciting to see the Magpies start to invest in youth and develop a good, attack minded team.
At Twickenham, there wasn’t an international match, but Northampton hosted Leicester, losing 15-23 in an English Premiership encounter. Unfortunately for Northampton, there was no comeback on the pitch having gone 20-5 behind, but also off the pitch, a comeback that hopes and prayers were once dedicated to, hasn’t materialised.
League fixtures have become more common at the home of English rugby in recent years as clubs look to maximise attendances and gate receipts to aid club coffers, but this match had a specific purpose. It was played to raise funds for Rob Horne, the former Saints player who was forced to retire from rugby after sustaining a career-ending injury against Leicester last season.
Rob played 10 seasons for the Waratahs (including a Super 14 final against the Crusaders at the age of 18) and 34 tests for the Wallabies between 2010 and June 2017, when he played his final game in the Green & Gold against Italy. He played in the 2011 & 2015 World Cups and also against the British & Irish Lions in 2013. In the first half of his international career, he was used primarily as a centre, although Michael Cheika decided that he was best utilised on the wing.
Rob moved to Franklin’s Gardens for the 2017/18 season and was the leading try scorer for Northampton scoring 8 tries in 21 appearances. In April, Rob led Northampton out as Captain for the first time. It was at Welford Road against Leicester, which, as anyone from the East Midlands of England will tell you, is a huge local derby.
The game kicked off and Rob attempted to tackle the Tigers No 8 Sione Kalamafoni – just 12 seconds of the match had passed when Rob collapsed on the turf and was unable to move. Rob recalls the incident as follows:
‘I haven’t looked at the footage – I can’t put myself through it – but I’ve been told it looks like I’m trying to get up and I just can’t. Like any player you don’t think anything’s that wrong. Initially when I couldn’t move my right foot it was an issue, obviously, but I kicked and kicked and got that moving. Once that was moving I just thought I’d dislocated my right shoulder. That’s what I said to the medics: ‘I think I’m all good, I just think my shoulder’s dislocated. It was probably the body language and demeanour of some of the doctors [that started to sow some doubt]. I was lying there thinking: ‘Why are they approaching me like this?’ That was probably the moment when I thought possibly something more serious has happened.’
After undergoing tests, leading neurological consultants from The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital confirmed that Horne had suffered career-ending nerve damage to his right arm. He was just 28.
Apart from this fixture, there have been multiple fund raising events to help Rob. At the time of writing, £87,976 had been raised via a silent auction – this link gives you a feel for how people have rallied around to help.
When players move offshore to take up a lucrative contract, it can be for a number of reasons, but the primary one is and will continue to be the cash on offer. A rugby career isn’t for ever and it can be taken away just like that. Thankfully Rob’s story is relatively rare, but the reality is it can happen. I’ll leave it there and let Rob sign off, I think this quote sums him up quite nicely:
‘It’s not a barrier. Early on you are coping with different things – I’ve got a lot of muscle wastage. Through not playing rugby I’ve lost a lot of weight. Living with paralysis, there are perceptions around that. I find it is how I approach that and it’s how I represent myself that is the best way to go about it.
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