Shaunagh Brown column: Neck injury a reminder rugby is not everything

Shaunagh Brown column: Neck injury a reminder rugby is not everything

England claimed a Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam and fourth straight title against France on Saturday, but I could not be there.I suffered a neck injury in training and left camp before the team went to Bayonne. As a prop, your neck generally hurts from scrums but any injury in that area or the spine…

A graphic reading: Shaunagh Brown, BBC Sport columnist, with a picture of Shaunagh Brown

England claimed a Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam and fourth straight title against France on Saturday, but I could not be there.

I suffered a neck injury in training and left camp before the team went to Bayonne.

As a prop, your neck generally hurts from scrums but any injury in that area or the spine is super-scary.

Initially, I continued training and took painkillers and anti-inflammatories but when it did not get better I decided with the team doctors it would be best to stop everything – no running, weights or rugby – and I was getting treatment on it for a few hours each day.

Thankfully it has improved now but there was a moment when I thought ‘what if I can never play again?’

The doctor who sent me home from England camp was almost nervous to tell me his decision but actually I was all right.

I know there is life after rugby and there is not a chance I would risk the quality of that life to continue playing.

The stakes are high with a World Cup around the corner but if it came to it, I could deal with not playing if it means I have use of my neck for the rest of my life.

Neck injuries are hard even with medical scans – because if you scanned my neck and compared it with that of a person who has not played rugby, it would look a state.

As a result, it could send you down the wrong path in treating something that doesn’t look right on the scan but which my body has been dealing with.

Instead a physio diagnosed the problem and, like I said, it has improved with rest so I am hopeful I can play for Harlequins on Saturday as we look to secure our place in the Premier 15s play-offs.

‘Biggest Women’s Six Nations ever’

Even though I was not in France, I was still able to play my part in the Women’s Six Nations ‘Super Saturday’ finale.

All the round five fixtures were on one after the other on Saturday and I was part of a watch party event at a pub in central London.

There were similar events going on in various places and I have never known that to happen before.

It is a sign of how much the tournament has grown – it is the biggest Women’s Six Nations I have ever experienced.

What felt really special was having so many women come together to watch it.

I took a friend with me – and on the way home, he said he had never seen so many women in a pub.

That is the problem and that is the point. Women might not want to sit in a sports pub full of men but this was a safer space with women’s sport on the TV.

The organisers had invested money in it and said they would do similar things in the future around women’s sport.

England men’s wing Anthony Watson was there too and I would love to see more male players advocating for women’s rugby.

Because they are playing on a weekend too, obviously they can’t watch all of the games but even just reposting something about us winning the Women’s Six Nations on their social media is a good starting point.

They have more power than they think. If they post it, even if 10% of their followers click on it, then it helps.

‘Huge pressure with favourites tag’

After such a dominant Six Nations, a lot of people will now say England are World Cup favourites.

While that feels good, there is a huge amount of pressure that comes with it.

Like with any sport, no matter what has come before, anything could happen at a World Cup.

New Zealand have got a new coaching set-up, with coaches who have had success with the men’s side, and you can never write off France.

As well as France, Fiji are in our pool. They won bronze in sevens at the Tokyo Olympics and are a bit of an unknown for us with their unpredictable playing style.

France have lost their past 10 games against us and I am sure they will use that as rocket fuel for the tournament in New Zealand.

We are not taking our foot off the gas at all – that is a theme for us as a group.

We are looking at a five-month camp period from July to November for the World Cup, with training camps during a pre-season period before travelling to New Zealand, and that will be tough mentally as well as physically.

We have to keep growing and learning because even though we have won 23 games in a row and another Grand Slam, tomorrow is another day.

Shaunagh Brown was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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