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Ireland’s Slam success – Six Nations 2018 Review

The Guinness flowed in London on St Patrick’s Day as Ireland defeated England at Twickenham to win the Six Nations and complete a Grand Slam, only the third in their history.

Italy, meanwhile, pushed Scotland all the way in Rome, but a late Greig Laidlaw penalty edged a 29-27 victory for Gregor Townsend’s side.

And in Cardiff, Wales defied expectation to finish second in the Championship courtesy of a 14-13 victory over France.

Before the tournament there were plenty of questions yet to be answered ahead of next year’s World Cup in Japan and many were addressed during this year’s tournament.

6th: Italy

Another Wooden Spoon for the Italians, but this was to be expected. The Azzurri gave Scotland quite a fright on the final day but otherwise provided little threat throughout the tournament.

Head coach Conor O’Shea and his staff could not spring any more surprises like they did against England in 2017, but one particularly positive note was the breakthrough of Matteo Minozzi.

The full-back only made his first start for Italy against England – having made his debut last November – but was a constant nuisance to opposition defences with his pace and handling proving difficult to stop.

Following the tournament opener against England, the 21-year-old scored tries in four consecutive matches – the first Italian to do so – and was deservedly nominated for the player of the tournament.

While Italy may have progressed as a team, so has everyone else. And with Scotland’s strong performances this year the Italians have been left behind as the only ‘easy’ game in the fixture list.

Next year will be their 20th appearance in the Six Nations, so they must disrupt those at the top of the table if they are to quash the on-going calls for promotion and relegation.

5th: England

On paper, it appears that England are in a crisis.

This was their lowest finish for 35 years in a tournament that included a first loss to Scotland in 10 years and a first Six Nations defeat at Twickenham since 2012.

Head coach Eddie Jones had only lost once with England before the tournament and confidence was high with a young, talented squad capable of beating anyone.

So what went wrong?

Damage was done in the first game against Italy. Ben Youngs limped off and the scrum-half was ruled out for the rest of the Championship with damaged knee ligaments.

His replacement, Danny Care, is a firecracker of a player but most effective when brought on for the final 20 minutes. When playing from the start the 31-year-old tends to fizzle out, such are the demands of international rugby.

England no longer had their metronomic No.9 to keep the forwards and backs ticking to the same rhythm but the problems go deeper.

Injuries did play a part. The absence of No.8 Billy Vunipola was noted, and while Exeter Chiefs pair Sam Simmonds and Dom Armand, along with Sam Underhill, performed admirably they did not have the same devastating effect as the Saracen with ball in hand.

Jones said following the Ireland defeat “some players may struggle to participate in future”. After a succession of losses, perhaps change is necessary, but worryingly there are few players demanding to be brought into the squad.

Back row James Haskell and Richard Wigglesworth seem to be nearing the end of their international journey, but they are not integral players.

This could well be another lesson in man-management from Jones, that no player, no matter how experienced, is assured of caps.

The captaincy debate will linger and this needs to be sorted quickly. Jamie George continues to pressure current skipper Dylan Hartley for the No.2 shirt, but whether Jones will pull the trigger and ask the Northampton man to step down, relinquishing both the captaincy and starting hooker position, is a question only the Australian can answer.

Owen Farrell seems a likely replacement for the captaincy, so a contingency plan is in place. Now it is up to Jones to make a decision. Soon.

4th: France

One positive that France can take away from this year’s Six Nations is that in the opening match they took eventual Grand Slam champions Ireland all the way.

Celebrations in Dublin would have been very different had Johnny Sexton failed in his last-play drop goal attempt.

A win in Le Crunch against England will always satisfy the demanding French supporters, but there were undertones of discontent.

Fans fondly remember the days of Didier Camberabero and Phillipe Saint-Andre, whose individual sparks would combine and explode into attacking moves that few teams could defend.

Even Freddie Michalak could get the Stade de France on its feet with his extraordinary vision and passing play.

But the Les Bleus seemed to neglect these qualities for which they were so revered. They seem unwilling to be daring or as brave as French teams have been in the past. The victory against Italy in Marseille highlighted this. Two opportunities to kick deep into the opposition 22 were overlooked with the three points being seen as the better option.

France won the game but could not muster a fourth try that would have given them an extra bonus point.

Head coach Jacques Brunel inherited a team lacking confidence and an identity of how they wanted to play. The use of electric runners such as Teddy Thomas clashed with midfield brutes like Mathieu Bastareaud, but the 64-year-old has at least found a way to win big games.

This ability to beat top teams will be very useful in 18 months time.

3rd: Scotland

Gregor Townsend’s side were seen as the wildcard going into the tournament.

Stunning victories, both home and away, came against Australia in 2017, and Murrayfield nearly collapsed last autumn when Stuart Hogg’s dash to the line in the last play against the All Blacks was cut short to deny them an astonishing win over the world champions.

But Scottish optimism was severely tested during their opening match against Wales. 14-0 after 13 minutes in Cardiff, and the away supporters forgot previous successes. The match ended 34-7 in the hosts’ favour, a flattering scoreline when you consider Scotland scored their try and conversion in the 79th minute.

However, as the tournament progressed, Scotland’s central players took responsibility. Captain John Barclay was magnificent as his side beat England to win the Calcutta Cup for the first time in 10 years.

His work at the breakdown was similar to that of Richie McCaw or Michael Hooper as England simply could not force penalties or achieve the quick ball needed to unleash the backs.

When 10-6 to Scotland, England were launching an attack into the opposition 22 but Barclay dug, forcing the turnover which ultimately lead to Huw Jones breaking the line once again and floating a pass out wide for Sean Maitland to score.

Jones was another who made a difference and is becoming the prolific try scorer his country has lacked. 10 touchdowns in 15 international appearances does not flatter him.

And when tries were not available Greig Laidlaw kicked perfectly whenever called upon. Against France his kicking was flawless, notching eight from eight including six penalties. The 32-26 scoreline in favour of Scotland was almost entirely thanks to their scrum-half.

The Scots certainly made their presence known having been slightly anonymous in previous years. If they continue to take down tournament front runners, soon enough they will become one themselves.

2nd: Wales

2018 was always going to be a year of experimentation for Warren Gatland’s side.

No longer could their previous style of narrow, forwards-based rugby be used as effectively as in the past. Change was necessary.

And this change required reinforcement. Hadleigh Parkes provided the oomph in midfield that has been missing since Jamie Roberts’ departure from the international scene.

Meanwhile Steff Evans gave a good account of himself as he continues to find his feat in Test rugby. Five tries in nine appearances so far – including a stunning one-handed finish against Scotland in the first round – put him on scoring parity with the great Shane Williams. Still a long way to go however…

The winger, and those inside him, were put to good use as Wales’ more expansive play got results, but fortune was integral to their success.

Wales were gifted all of their points in the 14-13 victory over France, and Francois Trinh-Duc’s missed penalty handed the Welsh a fortunate win in Cardiff.

However, no conversation regarding Welsh rugby can omit the forwards. Captain Alun Wyn Jones inspired his team once again, commanding the line-out with few problems, while back row Aaron Shingler caught the eye, combining ease with ball in hand whilst also doing the dirty work at the breakdown.

Gatland will be satisfied with his team’s work this year but the New Zealander will demand much more before he leaves his role after the World Cup.

Champions: Ireland

Under Joe Schmidt, Ireland are the real deal.

The Kiwi’s side have overtaken England and are now second in the world rankings, and can now expect to be present during the latter stages of next year’s World Cup.

They entered the tournament with a settled squad – only one uncapped player was included – but it was the relatively new Jacob Stockdale who lit up Championship.

The winger scored seven tries – a tournament record – in his first Six Nations campaign, and now has as many tries as he has caps 10 matches into his international career.

But the entire team welded together, all doing exactly what was required to win. While Stockdale was crossing the whitewash, Keith Earls provided invaluable experience on the other wing, and his try-saving tackle on Elliot Daly – tapping his heels – denied England a near-certain try.

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton showed their usual class.

This was expected but they still had a job to do. Murray marshalled the Irish forwards for over 40 phases before Sexton lashed over a drop-goal from 40m in the final play to defeat France in the first round. Very few half back combinations in the world could replicate that.

And up front, Tadgh Furlong held the Irish scrum firm, allowing CJ Stander to carry from No.8. His 96 carries throughout the Championship was the second most in tournament history, only behind the 104 the Munsterman himself made last year.

Both led the pack along with captain and hooker Rory Best to make Ireland one of the most complete teams in the world right now.

Japan 2019 can’t come soon enough.

Ireland rugby image courtesy of Liam Moloney via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Six Nations 2018 preview

The 2018 Six Nations kicks off on February 3rd, with the 2019 World Cup only 18 months down the line.

Now is the time to trial and execute new combinations as head coaches ponder who will make their starting XV in Japan. Come next year’s Six Nations, the time for experimentation will surely be over.

In the meantime, of course, those coaches will also be trying to win the northern hemisphere’s premier rugby competition.

With 15 matches to look forward to between now and March 17th, let’s assess the state of each team heading into the tournament.

England

Head coach Eddie Jones’ side have been leading the pack since the Australian’s appointment following the 2015 World Cup.

A grand slam in 2016 was backed up with the title in 2017 – a final day loss away to Ireland was all that denied them another undefeated campaign and ended a record 18 match unbeaten run, level with New Zealand’s world record.

But there have been recent undertones of apprehension. While England did win all three of their autumn internationals – against Argentina, Australia and Samoa – performances were not convincing.

‘The back line is as exciting as ever, with try-scoring potential in every position, and a hat-trick of titles should still be the aim’

Jones described the Argentina victory as a “grindathon”, while the 30-6 win over Australia was dominated by the visitors’ misfortune at the hands of the TMO when at 13-11 down in the second half the Wallabies had a try contentiously disallowed.

Three late tries flattered the hosts that day, while a dominant 48-14 result over Samoa taught us very little considering the standard of the opposition.

England will rely once again on ever-efficient fly-half Owen Farrell, who has proven himself as a world-class talent. Similarly, Farrell’s Saracens team-mate Jamie George has raised his profile courtesy of some strong performances for the British and Irish Lions – whether the hooker will start over captain Dylan Hartley is a call only Jones can make.

Back row frailties are a concern. Billy Vunipola’s fractured arm has ruled him out of the tournament, while his deputy Nathan Hughes will also miss the start of the Championship.

Exeter’s Sam Simmonds has been impressive but questions still linger as to whether he is more effective as a flanker. This leaves “apprentice” Zach Mercer as England’s next best option at No.8.

Jones has been insistent that the 20-year-old Bath forward should remain on the sidelines while learning from his elders, but his impressive club performances, combined with a lack of other options, may bring his debut forward.

The back line is as exciting as ever, with try-scoring potential in every position, and a hat-trick of titles should still be the aim.

Injuries may be an issue in certain positions, namely in the back row, but England are still the second-ranked side in the world behind only the All Blacks. Home fixtures against Wales and Ireland are invaluable, and Jones’ side must take advantage.

Stuart Hogg is Scotland’s star man

Scotland

Head coach Gregor Townsend has breathed new life into what was a lacklustre Scotland attack, with full-back Stuart Hogg as its fulcrum.

It has been many years since the Scots have had a genuinely world-class player, but Hogg certainly is, and despite being injured since December, opponents will still regard him as a serious threat.

Scotland will also be buoyed by the return of Greig Laidlaw from a fractured ankle, while Finn Russell will continue to pull the strings at fly-half.

Scotland enjoyed a remarkable second half of 2017. They beat Australia in Sydney during the summer and continued their progress in the autumn.

Samoa were professionally dealt with before the Scots came agonisingly close to the greatest victory in their history as they gave the All Blacks an almighty fright, losing only by 22-17. 

Hogg’s ultimately unsuccessful dash to the line in the last play nearly took the roof off Murrayfield’s stands.

But it was their sensational win over Australia a week later that would have brought the most pleasure, as the home side piled over 50 points past the 2015 Rugby World Cup runners-up.

While perhaps not quite ready to put together a serious title challenge, it would be foolish for anyone to expect an easy match against them.

Ireland

England named eight uncapped players in their initial squad for the tournament, meanwhile Ireland have only one. A settled squad is an invaluable asset for head coach Joe Schmidt, who will be looking to build on an impressive autumn.

Back row CJ Stander was outstanding in the 38-3 win over South Africa – the largest margin of victory for Ireland over the Springboks – and his interference at the breakdown will be essential to nullifying the Championship’s expansive back lines.

Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton and Connor Murray remain one of the world’s most effective half-back combinations, if they continue to conduct those outside them as they have done in recent years, the Irish will be mightily difficult to stop.

A trip to Paris in the opening round will be no easy test, while they wrap up the tournament with the most difficult challenge of them all, against a vengeful England at Twickenham – having denied them the grand slam last year.

Ireland have been a perpetual disappointment at the World Cup, never getting beyond the quarter-finals, but Schmidt’s current side look like the real deal with players that could walk into any international side.

In the lead up to Japan 2019 they will be desperate to prove they can compete on the world stage, and that lead up starts now.

Wales

Wales have enjoyed success over the past decade playing ‘Warrenball’, a forwards-based game devised by coach Warren Gatland and designed to sap the energy out of the opposition through prolonged phases and repeatedly breaking the gain line.

It has been very effective but unfortunately for Wales, others have started playing it, too.

Now the New Zealander must devise a new strategy but without all the weapons in his arsenal. As of next season, Gatland must prepare for life without some of his biggest names.

‘Wales are underdogs, but if their new style of play can find its rhythm they will be a very difficult side to put away’

Players must play their club rugby in Wales or have over 60 caps if they play abroad. One of the casualties will be scrum-half Rhys Webb who is moving to Toulon next season, possessing has only 31 caps.

Full-back Liam Williams is another who is in danger of losing his eligibility. The Saracen has won 45 caps and will need to play most, if not all, of Wales’ fixtures in 2018 if he is to be selected next year.

Both will be enormous losses, and Wales need to find a way to replace them. This year’s Championship may be considered a trial run for Gatland, testing new combinations of those who will be eligible for selection under the new rule.

One particularly exciting prospect is Scarlets flanker James Davies, who has been in stunning form in the Pro14. Seen as a direct replacement for the injured Dan Lydiate, Davies is disciplined defender with lightning quick hands whose call up has been labelled as “criminally overdue” considering the flanker is 27 years old.

Compared to the rest of the tournament frontrunners, Wales are underdogs, but if their new style of play can find its rhythm they will be a very difficult side to put away.

France

Antione Dupont – the scrum-half is considered to be a big part of France’s next generation

Head coach Jaques Brunel faces a huge task, having only took charge in December following the sacking of Guy Noves after two years in the job.

Noves was dismissed after a disappointing autumn, not winning once in four games, including a 23-23 draw to Japan. He only won seven of his 21 games in charge, so France will be eager for a fresh start, and Brunel is certainly aiming for one.

The ex-Italy coach called up 19-year-old fly-half Matthieu Jalibert to potentially make his international debut, and chatter in France suggests he is quite the talent, a player with natural speed and game management whilst improving constantly.

Comparisons with New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett aren’t entirely unfounded.

France’s build-up to the tournament has been disrupted by off-field issues, specifically Mathieu Bastareaud’s suspension for making a homophobic remark whilst playing for Toulon.

Whether he returns after his three-week ban is speculative, but what is certain is that they will miss his brutality in the midfield, and with fellow centre Wesley Fofana also injured – and set to miss the entire tournament – France will have big shoes to fill.

The current starting half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Anthony Belleau have a combined age of 42, but despite their inexperience were ever-present during the poor autumn.

But bear in mind two of those four games were against the All Blacks, with another against South Africa, so this upcoming tournament with more even opposition should be a real indication of France’s future heading towards Japan 2019.

Italy

Italy’s results in the autumn tell us very little about their current state. A loss to South Africa and win against Fiji came either side of another loss to Argentina, where they conceded 17 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes to lose 31-15.

The Azzuri play like their countrymen drive, unpredictably, but in head coach Conor O’Shea they have a trump card.

The Irishman’s tactics against England last year – where his players refused to commit to rucks, thereby stopping them from legally forming and causing utter chaos at the breakdown – set off a chain of events resulting in the laws being changed, but it did temporarily halt an England side who were previously on top form.

England eventually came through 36-15 winners, but the visitors’ performance was not to be forgotten.

Trips to Dublin, Paris and Cardiff make life very difficult for the Italians, but under the leadership of the inspirational Sergio Parisse there will be no shortage of passion.

Prediction

1. England – Grand Slam winners

2. Ireland

3. Wales

4. Scotland

5. France

6. Italy

Marcus Smith: Too soon for England rugby’s new hope?

Senior players in the England rugby camp have warned Marcus Smith – recently promoted from the U20 squad – that he will be “relentlessly targeted” in training, whilst head coach Eddie Jones has told the young fly-half that he “will be holding a lot of tackle bags.”

Being an 18-year-old in the full England squad sounds laborious, doesn’t it?

‘England have thrown those fresh out of school into the deep end before but with varying success’

But, there are probably few places Smith would rather be.

Over the next month England play Argentina, Australia and Samoa, and Jones has selected an inexperienced squad.

Of the 34 players, 14 have fewer than 10 caps, while Smith – who plays his club rugby for Harlequins – is one of four who are yet to make their debut.

Jones has stated that 80% of his World Cup squad will come from the training squad named last August – which the Philippines-born back was a part of – so these new boys are not just here to polish boots.

It is unlikely that the youngster, who only made his Premiership debut in September, will play a starring role in the upcoming series, but he must be a part of the Jones manifesto leading towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

So when his time does come, will he be ready?

That night in Brisbane

Selecting a teenage fly-half is not entirely abnormal. England have thrown those fresh out of school into the deep end before but with varying success.

Failure is word seldom associated with Jonny Wilkinson, but on the 1998 summer tour of Australia, the 19-year-old was given his first England start in the Brisbane Test match.  The visitors lost 76-0, their heaviest ever defeat, with the fly-half missing multiple kicks.

Much was expected of Wilkinson as England coach Clive Woodward fielded an experimental and nearly unrecognisable team; of the seven debutants, only three played for England again.

While Wilkinson had begun his England career off the bench  – as Smith will likely do – against Ireland during the 1998 Six Nations in the homely surroundings of Twickenham, his first start was damaging.

Johnny Wilkinson

Opposite number, Stephen Larkham, ran riot in the No.10 channel, scoring a hat-trick of tries as England fell apart in the second half, conceding seven tries and 11 in total.

Although Wilkinson went on to have a sensational career, the highlight being England’s World Cup victory in 2003 where he kicked the winning drop goal in extra time to beat hosts Australia in the final – the Newcastle fly-half’s proper introduction to Test rugby was a disaster. 

“I was always trying to avoid stains on my career path, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to wash this one off,” said a distraught Wilkinson as he reflected on his emotions immediately after the match. 

This uncertainty remained until a frank conversation with his father ended with the question “So what are you going to do about it?”

But did that night in Brisbane really have an adverse effect on Wilkinson’s career?

A World Cup winners medal, a Six Nations Grand Slam and a World Player of the Year award all arrived in 2003.

Add this to domestic titles won in England and France with Newcastle Falcons and Toulon, where he also won two consecutive European Cups.

Wilkinson also went on to score more points for England than anybody else (1179). All those achievements suggest he thrived despite his nightmare debut.

Golden boy

Danny Cipriani (pictured right) had a rather different experience during his first start for England.

Like Wilkinson, Cipriani, aged 20, started life as an international on the bench, playing a small part in the matches against Wales and Italy in the 2008 Six Nations.

But when Ireland visited Twickenham later in the tournament, he made his first start at fly-half – and was simply wonderful.

Ireland opened up a 10-0 lead within the first seven minutes, but from that point on, Cipriani stole the show.

His kicking was faultless, both from hand and the tee and such was the confidence in the Wasps youngster that he continued to kick goals even after the great Wilkinson entered the field to play alongside him at centre.

England had found their new hero, a successor to King Jonny’s throne.

Nearly 10 years have passed since that day but Cipriani has only played 14 times for his country and there is one main reason for this; indiscipline.

The eccentric utility back had been selected to start against Scotland a couple of weeks before the Ireland match but was dropped by head coach Brian Ashton for breaking team curfew. Considering how the rest of his career has unfolded this seems rather prophetic.

During the years that followed, drink-driving arrests, celebrity girlfriends and tabloid headlines clouded Cipriani’s undoubted ability.

He was unfortunate regarding injuries and fled to Australia to play for the newly-formed Melbourne Rebels in the Super Rugby competition.

While playing in the southern hemisphere may be a beneficial experience, England’s home-based eligibility rule denied him the chance of any international rugby until he returned to England with Sale Sharks in 2013.

But by that time, the ever-professional Owen Farrell and George Ford had firmly established themselves as more reliable options. The door for Cipriani had shut.

Now 30, the man once predicted to inject electric attacking intent into England’s back line has somewhat resurrected his career, rejoining Wasps from Sale in the summer of 2016 who have since re-established themselves as one of the Premierships dominant clubs.

But this will always be a case of unfulfilled potential.

Development

Smith will likely have to wait for his international cue, and will probably emerge from the substitutes as Wilkinson and Cipriani did.

Is he ready though? That is a question that can only be truly answered retrospectively.

Cipriani’s performance against Ireland looked assured and composed but off the field he was self-destructive, swearing in live interviews and falling out with teammates – namely Josh Lewsey, who accused Cipriani of deliberately missing tackles in a full contact training session.

Wilkinson, against Australia in 1998, was nervous. But that poor performance drove him to be better. He developed a perfectionist issue so severe he sought therapy. That attitude is why Wilkinson became one of the best ever.

Whether young Smith has the talent remains to be seen, but ability can be improved. A good attitude is far more difficult to obtain and Smith will need to prove his temperament to Jones.

And that starts by holding the tackle bags.

‘The tackle wasn’t illegal or dirty – it was just bad luck’

It took a while, but Kevin Hartie has rediscovered his love of rugby union after the sport left him facing the darkest moments of his life.

With this year’s Six Nations tournament in full swing, the 39-year-old is avidly following the fortunes of England – something he doubted he would ever want to do again.

“It was palpable that something serious had happened, and in that brief moment, my life changed forever”

It’s now 16 years since Hartie, then a talented 23-year-old playing for Campion Old Boys in Havering, was left paralysed for life by a tackle that, as he recalls, was nothing out of the ordinary.

“The injury occurred during open play towards the end of a cup match,” he told me. “I was playing on the wing and caught the ball from a clearance kick deep in my own half. Looking to attack, I ran back with the ball and was tackled on the halfway line. It was a fairly innocuous challenge.

“I’d experienced many harder and tougher tackles than the one that injured me. However, on this occasion I fell awkwardly, rolling head first and twisting my neck. I fractured one of the vertebrate in my spine, sustaining a serious spinal cord injury.”

Adapt

“I immediately lost movement and sensation in my body and was unable to move my legs and arms. It was palpable that something serious had happened, and in that brief moment, my life changed forever.”

Not long after, Hartie was told that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Even 16 years down the line, with no movement in his legs and a very limited amount in his arms and upper body, he admits it still hasn’t completely sunk in.

“Prior to the injury I was very fit and active, playing various sports and enjoying a full social life,” he said.

“I don’t think you ever fully come to terms with it, as there are challenges to face every day. However, over time you adapt to life in a wheelchair. It was very difficult in the early days and for the first few years I struggled to adjust.”

Supported

Hartie admits the support of family, friends and his former team-mates helped to get him through some very tough times.

“In the early years, that support was vital because my existence had changed and my life was in turmoil,” he said. “But I had people I could trust and rely on.

“As I recovered, my family also felt better. In many ways, it brought us closer together”

“I was visited regularly in hospital by everyone which helped during that difficult period. Financially, my team-mates have supported me by raising money over the years. This means I can buy equipment and have physiotherapy which make my life easier.”

Despite the strain that his life-changing injury put on his family and those closest to him, Hartie believes it also had a strangely positive effect.

“Spinal cord injury impacts not only the individual who sustains it, but also their family and friends. As difficult as it has been for my family, they have always been supportive and as I recovered they also felt better. In many ways it brought the family closer together.”

Bad luck

For a long time following his injury, Hartie found watching rugby too upsetting. It had been his sporting passion since childhood.

“My injury was in open play from a tackle that wasn’t illegal or dirty. It was just bad luck”

“I’d played from the age of eight, through school and university. I loved playing for both the physical and social aspects. It was in me, really, so I struggled to watch the sport for many years.

“But after a time, I started watching it again and I enjoy it as much now as before the injury. I regularly watch live rugby and go to many England matches, home and away.”

Whether rugby union should do more to prevent injuries such as the one Hartie suffered is a perennial topic of debate in the sport, but he insists that his accident was just unfortunate.

“My injury was in open play from a tackle that wasn’t illegal or dirty. It was just bad luck. Rugby is a tough contact sport, although a lot has changed over the years to limit the number of serious injuries. Unfortunately, on rare occasions, they will always be a part of the game.”

Looking forward

Today, Hartie maintains a positive outlook on his future. Having gone back to university, first to do a Masters degree and then PhD, he is now embarking on a career in psychology.

He does, however, think of what might have been – and still might be.

“The injury has stopped me from having a family of my own. Although it’s not a barrier to forming relationships and having children, it hasn’t happened yet.

“I feel this wouldn’t have been the case had I not been injured, but who knows? Anything could’ve happened. Things might change in the future.

“I had hoped to travel the world and live and work abroad. This wasn’t to be. However, I’m happy to be at the start of a new and interesting career as a psychologist and looking forward to what the future holds.”