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'After 16 years' neck abuse, it was time to get it fixed with 10th op'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Recently retired ex-England hooker Joe Gray has warned about the dangers of the scrum after posting some post-operation pictures following his latest surgery. The 34-year-old called time on his distinguished career at the end of the 2021/22 season, bringing the curtain down on a lengthy professional CV that saw him join Northampton in 2006 and then go on to play for the London duo, Harlequins and Saracens.

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He was farewelled as the first player in England to win every domestic and European trophy as he was involved in three Gallagher Premiership titles, one Heineken Champions Cup, one Challenge Cup, one Greene King IPA Championship, two LV Cups and one British and Irish Cup.

Gray will remain heavily involved in rugby as he will be the head coach at London Scottish for their upcoming Championship season under Bryan Redpath, their new director of rugby, while MyoMaster, the specialist sports recovery company that co-founded, has become Harlequins’ official recovery partner for 2022/23.

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In the meantime, retirement – rather than another gruelling pre-season – has allowed Gray to get some repairs done to his body and in a post on Linkedin, the former front-rower has spoken about the damage that scrummaging did to him over the years.

Alongside pictures that showed an X-ray and stitching, Gray wrote: “After 16 years of abuse to my neck, it was time to get it fixed with my tenth operation. I have suffered for the last seven years with numbness and weakness to my right hand and arm.

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“I am one of the few players that have three bulging discs due to having played in scrums with crouch touch pause engage, and the newer process of crouch bind set. Both are not ideal for your neck. However, the latter is horrific axial loading for hookers who actually keep the gap with 16 players pushing to gain an advantage pre-set call, and crushing the hookers’ necks who have to keep this gap.

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“Thankfully the operation was a great success and after two drilled vertebrae we are on the mend. After all my recent operations I am very grateful I own a recovery business and can take full advantage of what we specialise in.”

Capped once by England on their 2014 tour to New Zealand, Gray spent four seasons at Northampton before a 2010 switch to Harlequins. He was eight years at The Stoop before moving to Saracens for two years. He then returned to Harlequins for a further two-year stint before calling time on his playing career.

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