Tom Croft is "shocked" to be in the England squad against Italy just 11 months after he was almost paralysed by a broken neck.
Croft suffered a triple break to the C6 vertebra and a burst disc last April when he mistimed a routine tackle on Harlequins number eight Nick Easter.
The Leicester flanker was operated on the following day by renowned surgeon Peter Hamlyn, who realigned the "crazy paving" and inserted a metal plate, cage and screws.
Croft spent eight weeks in a neck brace and he had returned to light training when Hamlyn outlined just how close to being catastrophic the injury was.
That briefly knocked Croft for six. The 27-year-old is close friends with Matt Hampson, the former Leicester prop who was paralysed when a scrum collapsed in an England Under-21 training session in 2005.
Many players may have counted their good fortune and called it a day but Croft was inspired to continue, partly by the spirit and verve with which Hampson has dealt with his injury.
"It was a pretty depressing subject. When I saw him for the second time after the operation he explained what had been done and said 'this is pretty much as close as can be to being paralysed'," Croft said.
"I probably didn't need to be told that! I had taken the collar off, I was back in training and then he tells you that. It was a hard thing to be told.
"If anything 'Hambo' helped. He is one of the most upbeat characters there is, especially what has happened to him.
"It would very easy for him to become a recluse but he is out there doing things for the foundation and it gave me that little bit of hope that if anything did happen it was not the be all and end all.
"Fortunately, I was in the best possible hands and didn't have to deal with that. The metal plate is about five inches. It stays in there and the bone grows around it. That is probably the strongest part of my neck.
"You play a contact sport, there is potential for things to happen, a very small percentage. But Hambo has come through it and achieved massive things. It gives you that hope.
"In a way it was good I was told (how severe the injury was) because it made me realise how hard I had to work to get back strong enough and back to the place where I am now."
Croft made a tentative comeback for Leicester against Exeter on January 4, initially only playing every other week as the club medics monitored his progress.
The physical scars may still very clear around his neck but Croft very quickly overcame any doubts about returning to action.
He continued: "I was offered the chance to see a psychologist but I wanted to deal with it myself.
"If you can solve it yourself that is the best situation. Leicester being Leicester we had a huge contact the week before I came back and played.
"I was a little bit tentative but then you are flying and there's Louis Deacon driving his knees in you have to get stuck in.
"You might as well go all-in and find out yourself and I ticked that box. Going into the first game I was 99.99 per cent there and then after the first tackle that was me okay.
"The metal plate is about five inches. It stays in there and the bone grows around it. That is probably the strongest part of my neck."
Part of the mental process was spent in the gym. Croft has added five kilograms and he has returned stronger. His Leicester team-mates felt the difference in their first mauling session.
He added: "It was something I couldn't mess with. For my head I had to put weight on so I had more size going into contact situations. That was my own mindset really.
It was only last week he was cleared for a full return to action and after an outstanding performance against Sale he was drafted straight back into the England fold - although he did not expect to force his way into the squad that will tackle Italy on Sunday.
He said: "It was a shock to be called up by England. When you see a side going well you don't expect them to make any changes.
"It's great to be rejoining a side that is playing well and hopefully I'll get a chance to come off the bench and hopefully add to it."
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