Jamie Salmon who played centre for both New Zealand and England and is chair of the England Rugby International Club (ERIC), which represents all former England players, was with RFU Injured Player Foundation (IPF) clients in their Twickenham hospitality to present a £5,000 cheque from his members.
At the Calcutta Cup Test match, he was accompanied by former England flanker Mickey Skinner to present the cheque and chat to injured players.
“ERIC makes this donation annually out of our general funds to support the excellent work of the charity because we recognise just how lucky we are and want to help players at every level who face life-changing injuries,” he said.
Taking time off filming
Among those enjoying the Twickenham hospitality on the day, George Robinson was taking a break from filming his third series of the popular Netflix series, Sex Education. He laughs that he was cast as the troublemaker Isaac after an England loss to Wales when “I was pretty annoyed in a jokey rugby fan kind of way” and the Welsh casting director gave him the part.
“I love how Isaac is comfortable with people that don’t like him and doesn’t pander to anyone,” he says. “The way we use humour is very similar. I’m a wind-up merchant, too. The series is lots of fun and the cast and production are a lovely group.”
George, now 25, was catastrophically injured aged 17 while playing outside centre for Stamford School on tour in Cape Town. He completed his final year in school before studying philosophy at Birmingham University, taking an evening course in screen acting.
Also among guests was Dr Steven Cox 38, injured while playing tight-head prop for St Chad’s College while at Durham University. Having spent six months in hospital, he completed an engineering degree and doctorate, and now works for British Engines.
“My company , who I’ve worked for since university, have always been very helpful and the IPF are always available when needed, and have helped with my wheelchairs,” he said.
He was at the match with his wife Lucy and three-year-old son “It’s great to be here enjoying the match,” he said.
Simon D’Cunha was there too with his eight-year-old daughter Helena. He was injured in 1991 in a Keswick School 1st XV match “It’s amazing being invited to international matches and to spend time with a group who have so much in common but different stories,” he said. “The IPF are there for all of us. They have funded physio which stops me falling over and I’m about to apply for help installing a wet room at home as getting in and out of a bath is increasingly tricky.”
Victory over Italy
At the Italy match one IPF client had rather mixed feelings about the result as he joked with the other guests. Franco Antonelli’s parents moved to the UK from Italy in 1954. Franco was born here, but grew up speaking Italian and English. He was injured when playing for Peterborough RFC as a Colt in 1986 and has had IPF help with a wheelchair accessible vehicle and most recently adaptations at home to allow him to enjoy his garden with access for his wheelchair.
For Matthew Kelly, aged 32, this was a bitter-sweet outing as it was exactly a year since he was injured playing fly half for Calne RFC. He finally left Salisbury Spinal Unit on December 12 just in time for Christmas. He was there with his partner Sarah, a primary school teacher, who said: “The IPF help made a massive difference for us. They funded my travel and helped us financially so that I could be with Matt.”
Matt added: “I’ve been to Twickenham but never in hospitality and it’s good to be here with others who share my situation. I’ve been very grateful to the IPF, who’ve also put a chair lift in at home so I can get upstairs.
Tyler O’Dowd was described as making “a miraculous recovery” by one of the medics looking after him. On the wing for Berkhamsted in 2017, he continued playing after hearing an ominous click and ended up, after making a tackle, in a life-threatening situation.
“I died once for three and a half minutes, then for seven minutes and had an operation that saved my life,” he explained. The IPF have helped me more than I could ever ask for and have been there from day one.“
Although he can now walk, Tyler (28) needs to use a wheelchair for longer periods and says: “It’s great to be part of this rugby community and to come to Twickenham. Having been a skateboarder and skier before my accident, I’m now going to Andorra in March with the IPF to do some snowboarding. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Paul Grant (53) who was injured in 2016, was there too, having been sailing with the Jubilee Sailing Trust, and to the The British Legion Battle Back Centre in Lilleshall with other injured players. His IPF funded neurological physiotherapy has helped him with functional strength. This means he can enjoy his great love, riding his BMW S 1000 motorbike. Every Tuesday night he motors around blood banks in the Merseyside and Cheshire area, providing an essential delivery service.
“After the help I’ve received I always wanted to give something back,” he says. “This seemed the best way as the NHS saved my life twice.”
To help the IPF or discover more about the charity's support of rugby players sustaining a catastrophic spinal cord of traumatic brain injury and how they help to prevent future injuries please click here.