Injuries in sport are common, particularly in the more abrasively physical code of rugby. While some dance through their careers without a scratch, for others, injury is an ongoing occupational hazard.
As the professional game continues to evolve and turn out bigger, faster and stronger players, who have, over time, become more ‘thoroughbred’ than ‘shire’.
As a result, bigger and harder tackling of the modern game, coupled with the more finely tuned athletes has seen an ever-present and perhaps increasing injury list.
For some, their time on the sidelines is a once off or a short affair. For others, unfortunately, it can be a repeated and arduous time that robs players of some of their best years in the game.
Even in the upper echelons of the sport, some players have been ravaged by repeated and serious injuries. Below are fifteen household names who have gone through, or are still enduring lengthy injury woes.
Cian Healy (IRE)
The Leinster and Ireland loosehead suffered numerous injuries in his career so far. From knees to neck, the barrelling prop has been forced into a spectator role for long periods in recent seasons.
Having finally emerged from his injury gloom this past season, the 29-year-old is slowly returning to the form that saw him selected as a British and Irish Lion in 2013.
Dane Coles (NZ)
The world’s top hooker has endured a difficult 2017 as he continues to deal with the symptoms of a concussion suffered back in March. Out of action until August, the 30-year-old missed the second half of the Super Rugby season and has only just reprised his role in the front row for the All Blacks.
WP Nel (SCO)
The South Africa-born Scot had been forced with the prospect of early retirement this year following the recurrence of a serious neck injury. Having undergone surgery back in January, the Edinburgh prop returned to fitness at the end of last season after a difficult 12 months.
Richie Gray (SCO)
The towering second row missed the 2017 Six Nations with a hamstring injury before a back injury ruled him out of Scotland’s autumn tour.
Still out of action following back surgery, the Toulouse lock has seen 2017 and the chance of a British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand pass him by.
Jean Kleyn (SA)
The Munster lock has been extremely unlucky since his move to Ireland in 2016. Before he could establish himself in the position made famous by the likes of Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan, a neck injury put paid to his debut season.
Now, after seven months of recovery, the new season offers the giant 24-year-old the chance to show fans what he is all about in the Pro 14.
Sean O’Brien (IRE)
O’Brien endured one of the most arduous of injury layoffs of any player in recent seasons. Shoulder and repeated hamstring injuries appeared to be forcing the Tullow Tank towards an early exit from the game.
Dogged perseverance saw the flanker return to his best this past season, capped by a dominating British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand this summer.
Josh van der Flier (IRE)
Having burst into the Ireland set-up last year, ankle surgery in May of 2016 followed by a shoulder injury in February of this year has interrupted the marauding flanker’s progression at the worst possible time.
Just as he appeared to be nailing down a starting spot for Leinster and Ireland, his untimely spells on the sidelines have cast him back into the battle for his spot in a talent-rich pool at Leinster.
Billy Vunipola (ENG)
A serious knee injury in late 2016 threatened to derail the 24-year-old’s British and Irish Lions’ hopes. Bouncing back quickly, however, the No. 8 returned for Saracens and helped them to a second consecutive Champions Cup title.
Nailed on for the starting No. 8 jersey for the Lions tour of New Zealand, a shoulder injury forced the England star out of the tour and back into surgery.
Having missed the start of the new Premiership season, Vunipola is on track to return in October.
Rhys Webb (WAL)
Webb has firmly established himself as one of the world’s top scrum-halves, with a Lions tour of New Zealand cementing his credentials at the top table.
It could have been so different, however, as a serious ankle injury before the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and another ankle injury in late 2016, threatened to scupper any hopes the dynamic No. 9 had of establishing himself on the world stage.
Following a summer of success in New Zealand, Webb appears to have left his injury woes behind him.
Pat Lambie (SA)
Recovery from concussion has been an ongoing challenge for the South African, ever since being knocked unconscious in June of 2016 by Ireland’s CJ Stander.
Still sidelined by the symptoms, Lambie is edging towards a return to play and it appears that chance will now come in the Top 14 with Racing 92.
Charlie Ngatai (NZ)
The Chiefs centre has lost a year of his promising career to the persistent symptoms of a concussion suffered in 2016.
Having returned towards the end of the Super Rugby season, further symptoms and an ankle injury further impacted his injury-blighted season.
Now back to full fitness, Ngatai will be looking to get back to the action when the new season kicks off once more.
Manu Tuilagi (ENG)
One of England’s most talented and dynamic players, Tuilagi has suffered a seemingly endless string of injuries that has blighted his past few seasons.
With two serious knee injuries and subsequent surgeries, the powering centre has played a mere 17 minutes for England since 2015 and only 17 appearances for Leicester in the last three seasons.
Nehe Milner-Skudder (NZ)
Foot, shoulder and hamstring injuries have robbed the versatile New Zealand back of much of the last twelve months.
Now, finally fit again, the 26-year-old has shown little ill-effect from his torrid injury troubles as he has terrorised opponents in the latest iteration of the Rugby Championship with Nw Zealand this month.
Tommy Bowe (IRE)
Arguably the most unlucky of stars to feature in this list, Ulster’s Tommy Bowe has been little more than a spectator for the past two seasons.
A catastrophic knee injury in late 2015 ended any chance of a meaningful impact in 2016, before a broken ankle in Ireland’s clash with Wales back in March, ended his involvement in the final Pro 12 season.
Now, back fit once more, it is hoped the 33-year-old can get back to his try-scoring ways for Ulster in the new Pro 14 competition.
Rob Kearney (IRE)
A stalwart for Leinster and Ireland over the years, Kearney has seen his involvement interrupted by injury far too often in recent terms with hamstring, knee and arm injuries.
As recently as this week, a further hamstring issue has ruled the full-back out of Leinster’s trip to South Africa to face the Cheetahs and Southern Kings.