Gatland: I could have lost my leg

16:00, Nov 21 2012

Warren Gatland still vividly remembers the moment he feared he would lose a leg.

Life for the former All Blacks hooker turned successful international rugby coach changed dramatically on Easter Monday this year, just after 8am.

Gatland had woken early on a pristine autumn Coromandel day, deciding to clean the windows at his family bach at Waihi Beach. The job was almost finished.

Only one dirty window remained, just slightly out of reach. Gatland wouldn't be satisfied until the job was complete, so he edged closer and climbed onto the ledge of the house's deck.

The rugby world was to very quickly learn what happened next. As his feet shuffled along the railing, Gatland stretched further to push the long-handled hose-brush higher. Suddenly, he lost balance and toppled backwards.

In that one terrifying moment, life as the Welsh rugby coach knew it then was turned upside down in every possible way.


Rugby was put in immediate perspective. He says his family was his immediate thought as he tumbled through the air.

Falling three metres onto the concrete below, Gatland broke both heels in the freak accident.

Seven sobering months on, his intensive recovery remains painstakingly slow.

"Straight away I knew I'd done a lot of damage," Gatland said in Cardiff yesterday, in his first interview about the horrific extent of his injuries.

"You're cleaning the windows at the beach and you fall off and you think 'if things had gone bad I could have lost my leg'."

Both ankles were fractured, his right particularly severely shattered from the impact of the fall.

The initial advice was non-surgical intervention due to the major risk of a crippling infection from an operation.

"If you get an infection in your foot or leg they are quite difficult to heal and there is the potential to lose your leg," he said.

After being given the all clear to return to Wales, a shock setback made Gatland confront that scary prospect.

"Unfortunately, I had a small fracture blister that hadn't healed and it got infected. It was pretty messed up in terms of the heel and the swelling for a few months.

"I had a bit of nerve and tendon damage that you get from such an injury."

Six weeks ago Gatland's progress stalled. He required two skin grafts - from his instep and calf - during surgery. He was back on crutches. Back to square one.

"I went in with one wound and came out with three," he said of the operation in Bristol.

Yesterday, as he rejoined the Welsh, the former All Black hooker's right-foot moonboot and ginger limp was noticeable.

"I'm learning to walk again. I'm hoping in the next three or four weeks I'll be back in a shoe . . . and not cleaning windows.

"It's been sobering the last seven months. People have fallen from less distances and ended up in a wheelchair so I'm philosophical about what's happened.

"It's not something I dwell on. I've got to be optimistic about being active and as normal as possible."

Fairfax Media