I may have two steel plates in my jaw and assorted screws attached to elastic bands in my mouth, but I will still be loudly cheering on my USA teams mates as they attempt to defend the Las Vegas title in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this weekend.
All of that metalwork is the result of a clash of heads when I played against Tonga in the HSBC New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton and it meant I had to leave my team mates behind and head back to San Diego for surgery. The impact left me with two fractures of the jaw and that is why I now have two steel plates that will remain in place. The screws will come out – hopefully in a couple of weeks – and at the moment they have elastic bands attached to them to help my recovery.
I have had three sets of bands, each with a different tension, with the tightest first keeping my mouth shut which meant I was on a liquid diet for two weeks.
Then a medium set went on and allowed me to eat soft food and get used to opening closing my mouth again. This week we have the lighter bands which help guide the teeth back into the right place and I can now eat most things but I haven’t tried chewing a steak yet – that can wait! My latest scan on the jaw was great and I feel really positive and I cannot wait to get all of those screws out.
Any injury is frustrating but this week is even harder to deal with because having helped the Eagles squad win the HSBC USA 7s in Las Vegas title last season, I was desperate to defend it again on our own soil. Instead, I will be helping the squad in any way I can because this is a great opportunity to build on what we have achieved in the Series. We are joint top with New Zealand heading into the Las Vegas leg having made the final of all four tournaments in the Series and with Vancouver following a week later this is key part of the season.
I knew immediately that my jaw was damaged after that clash of heads and I was conscious throughout and there was considerable pain from the right side of my face. The impact was big because he was running in to make the tackle and I was going at pace and the blow snapped my jaw in half. I broke it on the bottom right side with the break going through my molar and on the upper part of the jaw there was another break.
I wasn’t able to eat anything for two days and after surgery it was a case of blended food, shakes and broth which meant I lost weight. My wife has been so supportive, looking after my food and ensuring I was able to eat despite the restrictions caused by the injury. I don’t have much fat on my body and so my weight loss was muscle which meant I was determined to do as much fitness work as possible when I was given the all clear to train by the surgeon. I have put the weight back on and am working out all the time.
Because contact work is out of the question, I have worked with the track and field guys at our training base but have been in the gym with the rest of my Sevens team mates every day and their support has been important. I will be there with them in Las Vegas and in the build-up to this year’s tournament there have been so many posts and videos put up online of the win last year and I am thinking “man, did I really take part in that!” It was a such a special moment for the squad and having reached the final of every leg this season, everyone involved with the USA team wants to back up last year’s win and keep us at the top of the rankings.
The performances this season along with the behind the scenes Pioneers video produced by HSBC about the USA squad has generated even more interest in the sport at home and if we could win the Las Vegas title again it would mean everything to us. Normally, we kick on after Las Vegas having started slowly, but this season we have reached every final which means I am really excited about what we can achieve. We have talked about being a top four team and clinching automatic qualification for next year’s Olympic Games in Japan, but our mindset has changed and now we are asking the question: “why can’t we be No1 in the world?”
That is the message heading into Las Vegas and I cannot wait to get back out there with the guys.
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.