Thompson announces retirement
December 3, 2011
Steve Thompson only joined Wasps in the summer © Getty Images
Wasps and England hooker Steve Thompson has been forced to hang up his boots with immediate effect after suffering another neck injury.
Thompson has been experiencing numbness and dizziness since hitting a scrum machine in training with Wasps on October 26 and he will have an operation on Tuesday. The 33-year-old briefly retired in 2007 after undergoing surgery on a different neck injury - but this time Thompson has been told there is no way back. Thompson said: "I went to the specialist and he advised me it isn't safe to carry on playing,"
The injury occurred two days before Thompson made his debut for Wasps, who he joined on a three-year contract from Leeds in the summer. Thompson played for an hour in Wasps' 14-12 win at Worcester - but that was to prove the final match of a career which brought him 73 England caps, three for the Lions and a 2003 World Cup-winners' medal.
"I was gutted. I hit a scrum machine and it just went. I played 60 minutes at Worcester and that was it. I tried to convince myself it was fine and it wasn't," said Thompson. "I went to the specialist and he advised me it isn't safe to carry on playing. I need another operation, which will happen on Tuesday. I have had a lot of numbness and dizziness.
"I was enjoying rugby. I thought I had done alright at the World Cup, compared to how some of the lads went, and I was really looking forward to Wasps. Dai Young is someone I really wanted to play for."
Thompson sent back an insurance payout of around £500,000 when he returned to action after his last neck injury, having received a second medical opinion that cleared him to play again. The former Northampton, Brive and Leeds hooker forced his way back into the England set-up for the 2009 summer Tests against Argentina and he was the first-choice pick at this year's World Cup.
But a career of glittering highs ended with the double blow of a quarter-final exit from the World Cup and then a second neck injury. "I have got to accept it this time. There is no way I can play," said Thompson. "I can't do what I need to do to earn a living. I scrum, that is what I do.
"The World Cup was hard. To finish the way it did was really disappointing and then to suffer another blow a few weeks afterwards - it is like a kick in the nuts. This operation will be more painful than the last one. I will take a break and see what opportunities come along the way."
Dylan Hartley and Lee Mears were England's other hooking options at the World Cup, while Leicester veteran George Chuter was in the pre-tournament training camp. Thompson tipped his now-former Wasps team-mate Rob Webber to break into the England squad.
"Rob Webber can definitely step up. Everyone said Webbs was a poor thrower, he wasn't. Wasps just had a poor lineout," Thompson said. "Having (lock) Marco Wentzel has changed Wasps lineout around. Now they are up near the top of the stats."
Young, the Wasps director of rugby, said: "We have huge sympathy with Steve who we know was really looking forward to becoming an integral part of Wasps. He is leaving behind a superb legacy in the game with some massive achievements and we wish him all the best in the future."
Damian Hopley, chief executive of the Rugby Players' Association, added: "Steve has been one of the great personalities in English rugby over the past decade, and it is a huge blow that he has had to retire prematurely, especially after the incredible amount of hard work and character he showed in coming back from a seeming career-ending injury to play at the highest level.
"Given Steve's popularity, humility and determination, I have no doubt that he will go on to be extremely successful, be that in or out of rugby. On behalf of all the RPA members, I would like to wish Steve every success for the next exciting chapter of his life."
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