England prop Alex Corbisiero has opened up on his decision to take a sabbatical and his fears for those playing with injuries on a weekly basis.
The 27-year-old was a star of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia three years ago but hasn’t made a start for England since 2012, in their win over the All Blacks, whilst spending lengthy spells off the field.
After parting ways with Northampton earlier this season Corbisiero has been able to let his body recover and to reflect on his spell in professional rugby so far, before opening up on his experiences of struggling with injury.
“I am ready to talk because I want rugby to change. I want us to look after players by talking about it, listening to each other and having a united front. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from my contemporaries. They’ve made a tough time much easier,” Corbisiero said in an extensive interview with The Guardian.
“Even now people will frown if you say you need a rest or can’t train in the week. There’s still a stigma about it.
“I should have said: ‘I need to rest this injury before it goes too far.’ But I pushed myself and kept quiet. There’s so much at stake and players soldier on or strap up. But we’ve reached a point where we need to respect guys who don’t play when they’re hurt.
“It takes courage to say you are not right. But the repercussions can be serious. You might play one ‘vital’ match and end up missing six months.”
“As I accumulated more wear-and-tear and my injuries became more apparent I couldn’t do every session or play 38 games straight. I had to be more vocal about my need to be better managed.
“At first there was resistance. Sometimes [his first club] London Irish were good, or Saints were good, England too, but there were times when they needed you and it didn’t matter how you felt. You had to go out and do it. When the pressure is on, it doesn’t matter if you need a rest or are hurting. It’s a results business and the team has to succeed. Their jobs are on the line and that defines decisions many times.”
Looking back, Corbisiero knows there were times where he really had to rest rather than playing on and worsening his condition.
He explained: “There were so many times I should not have played. I wouldn’t say I felt forced but I felt pressure to play and to ‘soldier up’. I ended up doing more damage which I regret now. If I had been smarter I would have played lots more games over my 10 years.
“You also get frustrated when filling out these ‘Wellness’ questionnaires. You can’t say ‘I’m feeling rubbish’ because they’ve just said: ‘We need you.’ I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. It’s just the system. The reality is that as long as you’re walking and able they expect you to play. You also have pride. My best games were for coaches who invested in me, and I invested in them. So the emotional side of you wants to be there for them.”
“There are a few coaches [who dislike players asking for a break]. I don’t want to name names but it’s come up a few times in my career. Even though the medics have made the call there are plenty of coaches who, deep down, resent the fact that you’re not playing.
“There are discussions. ‘Can we do this? Can we see how it goes?’ Some medics stand firm. There are tons of examples where a ‘no’ is a ‘no’. But, in a grey area, my experience is that the decision leans towards the player playing.”
“It’s tough [for the medics]. Their role is to do what’s best for us medically. At the same time they need to help the team. A lot of time what’s best for the player and what’s best for the team is so far apart that a conflict is inevitable. Medics try to look after the player but there is pressure on them.
“Lots of players come back too soon quite regularly. That’s the ruthless reality of professional sport.”