Things looking up for Croft
Tom Croft admitted he is "shocked" to be in the England squad for Sunday's RBS 6 Nations game against Italy just 11 months after he was almost paralysed by a broken neck.
Croft suffered a triple break to the C6 vertebra and a burst disc last April when he mistimed a routine tackle on Harlequins number eight Nick Easter. The Leicester flanker was operated on the following day by renowned surgeon Peter Hamlyn, who realigned the "crazy paving" and inserted a metal plate, cage and screws.
Croft spent eight weeks in a neck brace and he had returned to light training when Hamlyn outlined just how close to being catastrophic the injury was. That briefly knocked Croft for six, and he said: "It was a pretty depressing subject."
The 27-year-old is close friends with Matt Hampson, the former Leicester prop who was paralysed when a scrum collapsed in an England Under-21 training session in 2005.
Many players may have counted their good fortune and called it a day but Croft was inspired to continue, partly by the spirit and verve with which Hampson has dealt with his injury.
Croft added: "When I saw him (Hamlyn) for the second time after the operation he explained what had been done and said 'this is pretty much as close as can be to being paralysed'.
"I probably didn't need to be told that! I had taken the collar off, I was back in training and then he tells you that. It was a hard thing to be told. If anything 'Hambo' helped. He is one of the most upbeat characters there is, especially with what has happened to him.
"It would be very easy for him to become a recluse but he is out there doing things for the foundation and it gave me that little bit of hope that if anything did happen it was not the be all and end all.
"Fortunately, I was in the best possible hands and didn't have to deal with that. The metal plate is about five inches. It stays in there and the bone grows around it. That is probably the strongest part of my neck.
"You play a contact sport, there is potential for things to happen, a very small percentage. But Hambo has come through it and achieved massive things. It gives you that hope. In a way it was good I was told (how severe the injury was) because it made me realise how hard I had to work to get back strong enough and back to the place where I am now."