Whilst the rest of us partied on Sunday night, saying goodbye to 2006 – David Humphreys was having possibly the cruellest year end of his career. The legend ran out for the Ulster “Last Stand” clash against Leinster, for the last game Landsdowne, before the stadium is torn down and replaced with one fit for the 21st century.
But in the final game in this Landsdowne where Humphreys has become legend for Ireland over the last 12 years (gaining 72 caps and 560 points – making him Irelands most capped out-half and second highest points scorer), the 35 year old hit a problem.
With the game just six minutes old in front of a record Magners League crowd of 48,000, Humphreys found his arm out-stretched in a tussle with Gordon D’Arcy, when Paul Steinmetz hit the breakdwon Humphreys felt a searing pain from the elbow. The arm began to swell and he felt sick. Humphreys’ last stand at Lansdowne was over almost before it had begun.
Four medical opinions agreed that all the symptoms pointed to a fracture, most probably in two places. Thankfully the x-ray on Monday did not reveal any broken bones and yesterdays MRI scan revealed even more promising news. Humphreys had suffered a degree of bruising from the impact and significant soft tissue damage.
With intensive treatment and rehabilitation, there is a chance he could be fit for the away Magners League trip to the Ospreys at the end of January.
When Humphreys retired from international rugby last season, he signed a one-year deal with the option to review his position at the end of this season. Although the next European campaign is a long way off, with a later start than normal because of the World Cup in France next September and October, it is likely that Humphreys will still be an important member of the Ulster squad next season.
Paddy Wallace, who now has his big opportunity to make his mark at 10 over the next three games before heading off with Ireland for the Six Nations campaign, may well assume the mantle of Ulster’s first choice out-half next season.
But Humphreys, who still holds the tournament record for scoring the most points in a European match, 37 against Wasps in 2001 – and of course was such an inspirational figure in the famous European Cup triumph in 1999 could still be in contention for another crack at Heineken Cup glory; one more last stand in Europe.
He certainly deserves it.