Lambie admits playing through suspected concussion

Pat Lambie (centre) leaves the pitch with a knee injury sustained in the 2018 European Champions Cup final between Racing 92 and Leinster, the final game of his career. CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

Former Springboks utility back Patrick Lambie has admitted that he played through what he suspected could be a serious concussion in his final few games with Racing 92 in France, a knock which ultimately ended his career.

Lambie announced his retirement from rugby in January, 10 months after what turned out to be his last game, and after the last of five concussions suffered during his playing career. He was 28, with 56 Test caps for South Africa, and hopes still of going to a third Rugby World Cup.

Lambie said at the time that he was "bitterly disappointed and sad" to have had to make the decision because he still had "some dreams on the rugby field, and I feel like some good playing days are ahead of me".

But the South African star, who was playing his club rugby in Paris, now has detailed the knock that ended his career, intimating that the knee injury that took him off the field in his final match could actually have saved his life.

Lambie said of his final head injury, sustained in the European Rugby Champions Cup semifinal between Racing and Munster, that it was a "big collision".

He told the Times: "I stayed at the bottom of the ruck, feeling dizzy, everything was spinning, tried to get up, sort of wobbled a bit, went back down for the rest of the passage of play, had some ice on my head, sprayed myself with some water, shook it off, said I was fine and carried on.

"In the back of my mind, I was concerned that if I put my hand up and said, 'I need an HIA [head injury assessment]', I wouldn't be allowed back on the field and, worse, if we made it to the final, I wouldn't be allowed to play in that."

Lambie added that he was "stupid" for having remained on the pitch to finish the game, saying that he was, "in combat mode... where the next game is the most important game that I don't want to miss out on and I can't make a sensible or a right decision.

"Thankfully for me, I didn't do any more damage but it could have ended very badly," he said.

Lambie was 'fortunate' again three weeks later, in the final against Leinster. His involvement in that match, which would turn out to be the last of his career, ended after three minutes when he sustained a serious knee injury.

Lambie explained that he tried not to think of the consequences of playing in the final: "I tried to pretend that I was fine, OK. I was trying to lie to myself. It was crazy.

"I didn't want to let the club down, I'd just arrived, I was part of a special team, I'd already spent seven weeks on the sideline because of a head injury. Now it was crunch time. I don't want to be the one putting my hand up saying, 'Bit of a headache here, I'm not feeling myself.'

"I had promised myself with previous head injuries that I would never do that, that I would never run on to the field without feeling 100 percent. And regrettably I did."

And now, a year later?

Said Lambie: "I still wake up with a throbbing head. It's like waking up with a hangover but you haven't had any fun the night before. Or it's like someone's whacked you on the head with a baseball bat. It's a pounding headache.

"Then I get this stinging sensation in my eyes, which comes and goes throughout the day, and it is worse with some things like a weights session in the gym."