‘They’re were a few crazies running around screaming’: Connor Vest reflects on ‘scary times’ after broken neck


Connor Vest stood up and walked off the field in Dunedin in May thinking he had hurt his shoulder.

The Queensland Reds backrower, a carpenter who’ persevered for almost a decade before winning a Super Rugby Pacific chance under Brad Thorn at Ballymore, had lost his feet in a tackle and launched headfirst into Highlander Shannon Frizell’s shoulder.

He failed a head injury assessment when he was unable to retain his balance, then had a shower and watched the second half from the sideline.

Barely two hours later Vest was in hospital, viewing scan results that revealed he’d fractured his vertebrae and would need to spend the next eight weeks in a neck brace.

“I wasn’t really thinking it was a broken neck or broken bone; I didn’t feel anything broken,” Vest, who re-signed on a two-year deal in October, told AAP.

Connor Vest of the Reds charges forward during the round 14 Super Rugby Pacific match between Highlanders and Queensland Reds at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on May 26, 2023, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

“But scans came back and it’s a fracture in the C7; it was pretty scary times.

“It was pretty overwhelming …  there were a few crazies running around, screaming, that didn’t make the hospital stay much good.

“I was bed-bound for two days, couldn’t move or roll, just laying there on my back.

“There was a lot of thinking about what I’d do for the rest of my life, would I be able to play footy again?”

The diagnosis of a stable fracture meant Vest could fly home and avoid surgery.

So well had he progressed that a berth against the visiting Panasonic Wild Knights in November – only 20 weeks after the injury – was on the cards.

But Vest broke his thumb, surgery setting him back about six weeks to leave him at “95 per cent” when the squad returned to training in December.

But a football return was never really in doubt, Vest already boasting one of the “strongest necks in the club” based on his efforts on the ForceFrame strength-testing device.

“I’ve always wanted to be a footy player; I worked 10 years to get to this position, I wasn’t going to throw it away,” he said.

“It was about just pushing through and seeing there’s light at the end of tunnel.

“It’s just that you don’t know how long that tunnel is.”

Before his injury, Vest had won a starting spot in a Reds side with no shortage of back and second-row talent.

He’s had to impress a new coach since the exit of Thorn, who admired Vest’s tenacity after being overlooked for a contract at the NSW Waratahs.

New man Les Kiss, a former Queensland State of Origin winger boasting a decades-long coaching career in Europe and with the South African Test side, has made his own presence felt though.

“The energy that Les and his staff have brought in … he walks in with a bit of a pep in his step,” Vest said.

“He knows what we can do and I think his structure is really going to benefit some of our key players.”

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