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'You don't want to see your child hurt whatever': The emotional toll Jack Willis' latest serious knee injury had on his family

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

Injured England back-rower Jack Willis released the third episode of The Rebuild 2.0, his Instagram documentary series, on the same day as the Lions announced the names of the 37 players they are bringing to South Africa in July. 

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Players who can jackal and win regular turnovers was mentioned by Warren Gatland as a useful weapon for the Lions to have in their armoury on tour and England newcomer Willis would surely have merited being in the back-rower selection discussion had he been fit.

Willis managed to win an astounding 46 turnovers in last year’s Gallagher Premiership season, 27 more than next-best Blair Cowan, and the 24-year-old had since gone on to make his international Test debut for England under Eddie Jones.

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However his third cap – against Italy in February – ended in the nightmare of the second serious knee ligament injury of his career, a devastating body blow suffered just minutes after he had scored a try in the Guinness Six Nations fixture.

Willis has since been charting his rehabilitation on social media and has now released the third instalment of his mini-documentary series. Aside from footage in the latest five-minute episode of the stricken Wasps forward getting back to work at the club training ground, there are also emotional contributions from his family, tearful parents Steve and Jo and his sister Annabel. 

“We heard the noise you made and you never do that unless you were badly hurt. Just gone from the highest high to just pain. I was just feeling pain for you. It was pretty sad… you don’t want to see your child hurt whenever,” said dad Steve, reflecting on how he felt twelve weeks ago when his son was seriously injured when crocodile rolled by an Italian opponent.  

“Rugby and family are two of the biggest parts of my life and I am not sure what kind of bloke I would be without them,” said Jack during the episode. “For me talking about what is going on in my head is a big thing.

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“I like to think I’m quite an emotional person and I am happy to let my emotions out but it is weird how it catches you with an injury like this. My main frustration is I am not playing rugby and this is what is going on but your mind works in a weird way that the little things can tip you over the edge.  

There is a long way to go with the knee but I have tried to make sure there are other focuses throughout this because these sort of injuries give you a reality check that you won’t be playing rugby forever and you have got to have something else.”

Aside from family and what Willis was thinking as he contemplated his latest long road back from a serious knee injury, his apprehension about getting back to work was also documented. “There is always a bit of anxiousness around ‘oh is this going to hurt’, will I be able to do it?’ But actually today, going through the exercises felt pretty good and it just meant that your confidence lifts a little bit as well and you start to think, ‘oh actually I can do this’.

“It’s pretty exciting to start that first day and get going with it, especially when you have been sat on the sofa for four, five weeks, it’s pretty draining mentally. It’s little exercises but it’s suddenly being able to squat and bend my knee up to 60 degrees, it just feels like such a nice thing to be able to do considering a week ago I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t even put my foot on the ground.”      

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Turlough 1 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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