Article published on August 5, 2011.
‘Engage!’ was the last word Matt Hampson heard before dislocating his neck while in rugby training with other young England hopefuls.
On a cold, grey, overcast day in 2005, the cream of young English rugby gathered at a Northampton training ground. Matt Hampson, ‘Hambo’ to his mates, was one of them. He had dreamt of playing rugby for England ever since he had picked up a rugby ball at school. His skill, conviction and dedication had brought him to the cusp of realising that dream, in an England U21 team that included Olly Morgan, Toby Flood, Ben Foden and James Haskell.
But as the two sets of forwards engaged for a scrum on the training field, the scrum collapsed and Matt, who played tight-head prop, took the full force of two opposing sides. In that moment his life changed forever.
Paul Kimmage went to visit Matt as he recuperated, and wrote a piece for the Sunday Times which won him his third successive SJA sports interviewer of the year award. They struck up a friendship and here, Paul tells Matt’s whole story, in all its intimate detail. From the build-up to the dreadful day, to Matt’s recuperation, to his struggle to adjust to normal life again, to his family and friends, to other tragic incidents on the rugby field, to the response of the RFU, this is a story of terrible sadness yet unadorned triumph and joy, of anger yet of reconciliation and peace . . . of a boy who became a man.
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