Danny Lydiate may have spent most of the week in hospital but he is still a long way from matching the medical record of the man they called “Mad Dog.” In the brutal back row trade where the practitioners tend to be beaten up as an occupational hazard, few have more scars than England’s World Cup captain, Lewis Moody.
His case history tells its own shattering story.
“I had 14 operations in my career – five on different parts of my left shoulder,’ he says. “Then I had one on the ankle, Achilles, hip, elbow, knee and a few fingers. But then I gave my all as everyone does and I regarded the ‘Mad Dog’ nickname as a term of endearment.’
There had to be a limit to how much punishment even Moody could take before he accepted defeat with the utmost reluctance last season and hung up his boots at 33. Other international back rowers never got that far.
Ireland’s Denis Leamy was finished at 30, likewise Leicester’s Ben Woods. Wales’ Michael Owen bowed out at 29, England’s James Forrester and Alex Sanderson were much younger. Others like Dafydd Jones (Wales), David Wallace (Ireland), Michael Lipman (England) and Craig Newby (New Zealand) have also been battered into recent submission.
Lydiate has already endured something far worse than a broken ankle. His Newport Dragons’ career had barely begun when he broke his neck in a European tie at Perpignan and nobody has a better understanding of how he feels at being wiped out of the autumn Tests and the Six Nations than Moody.
“I know what he’s going through because I’ve gone through it myself but Danny will be back to resume his fantastic career with Wales,” Moody says. “He’s one of those brilliant young Welsh players I really enjoy watching. He won’t have a problem making the Lions tour because he’ll be back in time before they pick the squad.
“He’ll be very frustrated but back row is a position where you are most susceptible to injury because of the number of tackles you have to make. The nature of the job which makes it imperative to be first at the breakdown means you tend to get smashed out of the way.
“You do whatever you can to make a difference. You make those sacrifices for the team and that was why I played the way I did. If I didn’t finish every game absolutely knackered with my head bleeding, my skin scraped and my body aching, I felt really guilty that I hadn’t done enough.
“Rugby is such a combative game these days that you rely as much on luck as on skill. Psychologically, the hardest thing about being injured is coping with the mental effects. You go from being part of the team to being out on your own and that takes a really heavy toll.
“You’ve got to watch other people play in your position often for month after month. And when you are eventually fit to start playing again, there is no guarantee you will get your place back. It’s a mental minefield.
“My worst experience was probably when I broke my ankle before the start of the Six Nations in 2008. I’d just come back from a ruptured Achilles tendon. It had taken me six to seven months to recover from that and I was back in the Leicester team, going well and looking forward to the Six Nations.
“Just over a fortnight before England’s first match, I had an accident in training. I dived on the ball and one of my team-mates, Alesana Tuilagi, tripped over me. Nearly 20st of Samoan muscle snapped my ankle in two places.
“And that was when I thought to myself, ‘do you know what, this could well be it’. I didn’t know whether I could go through the long rehabilitation process yet again. It is depressing because you are unable to do what you love doing. But at some stage you have to snap out of the depression.
“In spite of all the operations, I enjoyed my career. I look back on it and know I couldn’t have done any more….”
The same can safely be said of Lydiate, except that, at 24, he ought to have ample time to translate last season’s Grand Slam into something more spectacular at the next World Cup.
For all his team’s nightmarish experiences at the last tournament, it ought not to be forgotten that Moody won the ultimate prize with England in Sydney nine years ago when he was the same age as Lydiate.
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