Pat McCabe is optimistic about making a successful comeback from a neck injury. Photo: Mike Hewitt
Pat McCabe is optimistic about making a successful comeback from the neck injury which ended his European tour, but says he won't risk his life to get back on the field.
The ACT Brumbies star will spend the next two months in a hard-collar neck brace and doesn't know when he will be cleared to play again after suffering a C1 fracture two weeks ago.
It is expected McCabe will miss a large chunk of the Super Rugby season, with surgeons ordering him to take a complete break from training until mid February.
The plan is to return to training after the Brumbies play their opening game, against the Queensland Reds on February 16.
But even then McCabe admitted a recovery and comeback timeframe was unclear.
The Brumbies' vice-captain and medical staff expect him to make a full recovery, but the 24-year-old conceded he had contemplated life without rugby and said he wouldn't play if it risked permanent damage to his neck.
''If the fracture starts to move apart more or it doesn't knit together well, there are obviously some pretty serious issues with playing again,'' McCabe said.
''At this stage I'm trying to stay as positive as I can and I would love to play for the Brumbies and Wallabies again. First and foremost I want to live a happy and normal life and if that means not playing rugby because there's a risk there, then that's the case.
''I love playing, but I'm not going to risk my life to play it. Both surgeons I have seen expect it to heal well so I'm confident.''
McCabe returned to Australia earlier this week after his spring tour with the Wallabies ended after just one game. The inside-centre first injured his neck while playing against France. But the injury flared up in a contact training session before the Test against England and McCabe was sent for scans. He had more scans in Sydney on Thursday and the neurosurgeon has ordered him to wear a hard-neck brace for the rest of the year and a soft-neck brace until mid February.
The Brumbies will wait until McCabe arrives in Canberra before deciding whether they need a new addition to their squad. Because of the serious nature, the Brumbies could ask to draft in another player in McCabe's absence. Local players Sam Windsor and Matt Hawke have impressed while joining the squad for pre-season training and they could be rewarded with a Super Rugby chance.
For McCabe, wearing a neck brace every day is already making life difficult. He can't drive and joked ''it's not the best beach accessory'', but he's determined to do everything right to ensure his recovery goes smoothly.
''The fracture was looking stable [in the scan on Thursday], so that's a good start,'' McCabe said.
''I'll get another scan in two weeks to check if it's still in alignment and initially they thought three months in a hard-neck brace but with any luck that will be two. It's not a lot of fun … I can't drive and not being able to train is something I'm not used to, but hopefully it all goes quickly.''
McCabe has enjoyed a superb rise through the rugby ranks since making his debut for the Brumbies two years ago. He was a rock in the Wallabies back line at the World Cup but he had to have a shoulder reconstruction and missed the start of this year's Super Rugby season.
His neck problem will set him back after cementing his place in the Australian Test side over the past 18 months.
''But hopefully after I come out of this I get a bit of a clear run [with injuries],'' McCabe said.
''I didn't think too much of it when I got a whack on the head [at a ruck], but when it was really painful at training I knew something was wrong.
''Then when we saw the fracture it was a shock. A lot of guys have had much worse injuries than me and come back fine.
''Touch wood I get through this one and it's a bit smoother.''