Wales flanker Danny Lydiate just glad to walk the walk

By Daily Mail Reporter

Danny Lydiate came home from his European debut in an air ambulance not knowing whether he would ever be able to walk again.

A broken neck during Newport Dragons' Heineken Cup tie at Perpignan five days earlier had left the 19-year-old back-row forward wondering whether his first big match would also be his last.


Hauled back: Lydiate is tackled in training

Before going into the operating theatre on his return to Wales, the surgeon told the player's Mancunian father: 'If this is a success, he will play rugby again. If it isn't, he will be paralysed.'

The five-hour operation entailed taking a piece of bone from his hip and using it to put his neck together again.

Today, almost exactly two years later, John and Lynne Lydiate will drive from their 500-acre sheep farm in the Cambrian mountains near Llandrindod Wells to witness their younger son's graduation as an international rugby player at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Even allowing for the increasingly savage toll the game takes upon its fearless practitioners, Lydiate, who is expected to be unleashed from the bench against Argentina this afternoon, counts his blessings that a surgeon's skill saved him from life in a wheelchair.

He knew he was in trouble that night in Perpignan, not so much because of what he felt or, more pointedly, what he could not feel, but because of what he heard.

'I made a tackle, then others piled in and someone landed on my head,' he said. 'I heard a crack and felt a lot of pain. Then I began to lose feeling in my arms and legs so I thought the best thing was not to move.

'Luckily, I had the best medical attention in a hospital where they are used to dealing with people hurt in skiing accidents, so for them it wasn't that big a deal. Coming home strapped to a board and wearing a brace wasn't the best. All I worried about then was whether I'd be able to walk again.

'They said there was a chance that if it went wrong I'd be paralysed. The first thing I did when I came round was to see whether I could wiggle my toes. Once I did that I knew everything would be fine.'

Within 12 months, Lydiate had reclaimed his place in Newport's first team and now, another 12 months on, he is on Test duty for Wales, carrying infinitely more than the small scar 'just below the Adam's apple' marking the point of the surgeon's incision.

At 6ft 4in and almost 16 stone, a perfect fit for the identikit of the 21st-century flanker, Lydiate brings power to the Welsh pack.

'Daniel is right out of the top drawer,' said Paul Turner, his coach at Newport Dragons. 'He has the one thing which a lot of guys haven't got and that's sheer power. In that respect, he's like a white Samoan.'

Argentina guarantee him a punishing initiation in a city where their predecessors once confronted a literal matter of life or death.

More than 30 years ago, Mario Carduccio would have died at the bottom of a collapsed scrum at the old Arms Park had Cardiff physio Tom Holley not got to him in seconds to give the kiss of life. In a less dramatic sense, the set-piece poses the most obvious danger to Wales today.

Warren Gatland's refusal to talk up the Pumas pack is based, at least in part, on a discussion with Graham Rowntree and his fellow Lions coach's expert opinion of the South Americans' scrummaging, which certainly used to be the best in the business.

'Graham said he felt the Australian scrum was significantly stronger,' said Gatland. 'It's not a big issue for us. We need to play some rugby and not run into brick walls.'

The fans have seen too little of the former and too much of the latter. In four home matches this year, they have seen only one Welshman score a try, Leigh Halfpenny against England last February and Samoa last week, in between blank sheets against Ireland and the All Blacks.

But Wales should have enough gumption to exploit Felipe Contepomi's absence from his command post at fly-half by restoring some public faith in Test rugby as a spectacle. And not before time.

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