A crushing blow

John
John Browne
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Veteran rugby player Dean Blanks quits the game he loves after severe skull fracture

The play that ended Dean Blanks’ rugby career was one he’d pulled off plenty of times before.

He had success with the cheeky, skilled move often and, while there were times he got mixed results, he’d never experienced anything like what happened a few weeks ago in Calgary.

About 10 minutes into the second half of The Rock’s crucial Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) league match against the Prairie Wolf Pack, Blanks caught the ball just outside his team’s half of the field from a Wolf Pack drop out.

That’s when he decided to go for a chip-and-chase play which he admits he likes to do.

“The ball just didn’t bounce in my favour, and I collided with another player,” Blanks said.

He said he doesn’t know exactly what happened, but it hurt like hell.

“I have no clue, but it was totally accidental,” he said.

What he absolutely recalls is the double vision and massive pain in his face.

What did happen was that as Blanks was bending down to collect the ball, Wolf Pack winger Duncan Maguire’s knee connected with The Rock player’s forehead.

“I stayed down until someone came out. I was disoriented and dizzy, but I don’t think I was knocked out, as I can recall most of it,” said Blanks.

He’s had several injuries over his long career, but nothing like this.

This was different and he knew it. He’d fractured his skull.

“It was pretty devastating,” said Blanks, who had surgery last week to fix multiple fractures of his orbital bone and had a plate with screws inserted in his head.

“Basically, I had a large dent in my head which is what required the surgery,” he said.

He had a CT Scan done in St John’s when he returned home, and the doctors were surprised by the damage. On the scan it looked like Maguire’s kneecap had left an imprint on Blanks’ forehead.

“They told me in all the years of medicine, they’d never seen this kind of trauma from a sports injury,” said Blanks. “They said they’ve only seen such damage in car accidents or from someone being hit in the head with a steel pipe or something like that.

“So it’s a total freak accident for it to happen in a sports game,” said Blanks, who also likely suffered a concussion.

“Anyway, all the bad stuff aside, the surgery went well and I’m recovering. Got some great scars and some awesome pain killers,” he said with a laugh.

The worst part was realizing his rugby career was over.

That’s something he initially had trouble coming to terms with. It’s still difficult for him to even talk about it.

“The doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to play again this year, for sure,” said Blanks.

But after a check-up Wednesday, he said they didn’t rule out the possibility of him playing in the future.

“That was kind of good to hear, but I’ve made my decision to retire just because I don’t want to go through an ordeal like this again.

“It's not just me to think about. It’s my family. Last year, I injured my back. I herniated a disk which is still there. I’ve had nearly a whole year of rehab just to get it better, so by playing this year I was taking a big risk,” he explained. “Now for this to happen, well, it’s definitely no more playing for me.

“If I got paid to play and made a bunch of money, I might change my mind. But all I get is to play an amateur sport for fun, a herniated disk and a fractured face in back-to-back years. It’s enough for me. My decision is final.”

Blanks said retirement from the provincial team was just around the corner for him anyway.

A member of the Dogs RFC, Blanks has played the game since he was a five-year-old in his native Wales.

“It wasn’t just a game for me,” he said this week. “It was a way of life. Nearly my whole life revolves around rugby. Now I can’t play anymore and its heartbreaking, to say the least.

“It feels like I’m leaving a bond made between men … a brotherhood which is what Newfoundland rugby is all about. I’ll miss standing beside my brothers on the field, for sure.”

Newfoundland director of rugby, Pat Parfrey, who coached Blanks for years, says the Welshman was an integral member of The Rock team that won four national championships.

Parfrey described Blanks as a “quietly-spoken, gifted rugby player” who, besides running the offence, was a goal kicker and, “a real warrior on defence.”

He said Blanks possessed the rare combination of personal humility and ambition for the team and, “in this, the most physical of contact sports, bravery.”

Blanks, whose brother Simon now coaches The Rock, was introduced to the Newfoundland team when he was 15-years-old and played for Newport High School Old Boys (Wales) in 1996 against what would become the 1997 Canada Games team.

After that, he spent the following six summers in St. John’s, married a Newfoundland girl, Sonia, and got a job as a software specialist with Compuserve.

Prior to living permanently in Newfoundland, he played Division 1 rugby in Wales and England.

While he can’t play any more, Blanks is staying around the game.

He said he’d like to give back the things he’s learned about the sport over the years by taking on a coaching role.

“I’ve already been doing some coaching in mini rugby this year and I love it,” said Blanks. “Also, my four-year-old son, Maddox, plays as well, so rugby is far from over for me. This is just another chapter.”

Blanks, who will turn 34 in November, has played rugby for nearly 30 years, including 17 in Newfoundland.

“Everyone has been so supportive — family, friends, coaches, players, doctors, nurses, and everyone else across province who has helped me,” said Blanks. “I thank them all.

“I’ve enjoyed playing in this awesome province which I’m proud to call my home.”

 

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newport High School Old Boys

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Wales

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  • Brian O'Grady
    September 16, 2013 - 12:11

    Unfortunate for Dean Blanks to have that horrific injury. A class player, but mostly a class individual as all the Blanks family is. A healthy speedy recovery Deano, and it was wonderful watching you play if in fact this is it for you.