‘The sound was like a fence post breaking’, says injured rugby player

Rugby player Andrew Shell recovers from his leg injury. 
Picture by Jane Coltman
Rugby player Andrew Shell recovers from his leg injury. Picture by Jane Coltman

A talented grass-roots rugby player has told of the horror moment that his leg bones ‘exploded’ after being tackled during his 198th league appearance for his beloved club.

But despite suffering the brutal injury, which will leave him on crutches for the next two months or so, determined Andrew Shell insists he will return to the game he loves and notch 200 caps for Alnwick.

X-ray of Andrew Shell's repaired leg after it was broken during an Alnwick RFC rugby match.

X-ray of Andrew Shell's repaired leg after it was broken during an Alnwick RFC rugby match.

The sickening incident happened during the first team’s game against Beverley on Easter Saturday in the North One East division.

The 29-year-old right -winger suffered comminuted fractures – a break or splinter of the bone into more than two fragments after high-impact trauma – following a tackle from behind.

Andrew described the pain of breaking his tibia and fibula – the two bones in the lower leg – as excruciating. Speaking from his parents’ home at Brandon Farm, in the Breamish Valley, he said: “There was nothing untoward or malicious about the incident– it was just a tackle from behind that caused the severe injury to my right leg. It was a rugby incident and one of those things. The sound was horrendous, it was like a fence post breaking. It was excruciating to begin with, but then the adrenaline kicked in.

“I was really well looked after while I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive. The club was really good – there were lots of people around me and lots of waterproofs to keep me warm.”

Rugby player Andrew Shell recovers from his leg injury. 
Picture by Jane Coltman

Rugby player Andrew Shell recovers from his leg injury. Picture by Jane Coltman

Andrew was taken to the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, where he was X-rayed and had his foot reorientated.

“When the doctor described to me what a comminuted fracture was, he said that it is not a clean break – it is basically an explosion,” said Andrew.

On Easter Sunday, he endured a three-and-a-half-hour operation to have an intramedullary nail – which was 9mm in diameter – put through his tibia. Andrew said: “The rod runs from the top to the bottom of my tibia with two pins at the top and the bottom to stop it moving. The consultant said he was knackered after the operation.”

His fibula, which is a non-weight bearing bone, will heal itself. Because of the severity of the injury, Andrew suffered severe swelling to his lower leg. He was on a morphine drip and was not released from hospital until last Thursday.

Andrew Shell running the West Hartlepool back line ragged on Saturday.

Andrew Shell running the West Hartlepool back line ragged on Saturday.

Now, the long road to recovery begins. It will take him eight to 12 weeks to get back to walking normally and it will be about six months before he can look to get back into rugby – which he is determined to do. He is using a Compex training device on his good leg to stop muscle atrophy and he has started to work with SJ from Activate Physiotherapy and fitness coach Paul Warrior, from Warrior Programming, to draw up a six-to-12-month rehabilitation programme.

He said: “The consultant told me that I will make a full recovery. My target is to get back to rugby before the end of the year. I have waited a long time and worked hard to get my 200 caps for Alnwick, so I am setting my sights on reaching this next season. I had hoped to get them this season – so to have that taken away through injury has been hard to swallow and it is frustrating.”

If he does return by the end of 2016, Andrew says he will play with the nail in his leg initially, but the rod is likely to be removed in April 2017.

He has his own business, Flow Subsea Ltd, and is able to carry on working from his parents’ home. He has sports injury insurance through Emily Young in Alnwick.