'I just lay still and thought about my kids' -Keith Earls on Thomond neck injury
It is the fear every rugby player puts to the back of their mind when they cross the white lines and it became very real for Keith Earls last month.
The Munster star collided with Ireland colleague Eoin Reddan's shin in an innocuous incident during the closing stages of the interprovincial derby at Thomond Park on December 27 and lay prone as play went on.
The medics spotted something serious right away and raced to his aid. When the game came to a long standstill, an eerie silence descended on the Limerick venue as the local hero remained prone for a number of minutes.
Eventually, he was placed in a neck brace and on to a mobile stretcher and the entire stadium breathed a sigh of relief when he raised his hand and gave a thumbs-up to the reception he was receiving from both sets of fans.
That put the minds of those watching at ease, but while it indicated that he was OK leaving the pitch, Earls has revealed the very real fear that flashed through his mind when he went down initially.
"Whatever way I landed, I think I hit Redser's shin and I heard a crack in my neck," he recalled.
"I thought about my kids straight away. I said I better lay still here. The lads got out to me then and went through a few bits and I could move my hands. I didn't have any weird feelings just a small bit of tightness in my chest but I think that was more like a panic attack after hearing the crack in my neck.
"It was scary hearing the crack, my father, if he had hair he would have lost it, I could see when he came down to see me he was devastated. I gave them all a bit of a fright but thankfully it was all good."
In the end, the panic was short-lived and he was able to communicate the message that he was OK through his hand movements.
"I stayed still but I moved my hands. I didn't try to move my neck or anything, it was couple of seconds but as I said I could have moved my hands and said to myself I'll stay still anyway," he said.
"It was just like getting a nip off a physio or a chiropractor on a joint in the neck but I managed to get one off Redser's shin.
"Thankfully, everything was fine. I told them I was fine and could I get up but they said no once you've heard a crack we're not going to let you get up. I went out and got X-rays and I was showering with some of the lads then (after the game).
"My fiancée wasn't at the game one of the kids were at home sick with a chest infection so (I gave the thumbs up) just to let them know I was ok.
"I did. I think it was great, from both sets of supporters. Munster and Leinster rivalry and everything but it was great the way they came together. Thankfully, it wasn't a serious incident.
"I was a bit embarrassed. The old man wasn't happy when there was nothing wrong with me!"
Earls sat out last weekend's win over Ulster at Ravenhill, but is set to return to the fray tomorrow when Munster go in search of a win over Stade Francais that would infuse their season with new life.
Victory at the Stade Jean-Bouin would give the Reds a chance to qualify for the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
"We're not even looking at it as a two weeks or a three weeks, it's literally this week, because if we don't win this week, there's nothing to play for then," he said.
"It's a massive, massive game. The pressure is on. It's a new and big pressure for the squad that we have right now.
"Probably a couple of years ago Munster would have been used to it, but this is probably for this squad, is the biggest game of our Munster careers. We're just purely focusing on getting a win at the weekend and we'll take it from there then.
"They're obviously a physical side like all French teams, but their attacking ability, their counter-attacking ability, they play like a real French team with flair and offloading.
"They'll be tough team to defend if we go off and try and do things on our own. Trying to stop the continuity of their game is the main thing. They've got a lot of big personalities and a lot of experienced fellas, and it's going to be a tough one but one we're looking forward to."
Before focusing on matters Munster, Earls was one of the 11 players from the southern province to make their way to Carton House last weekend for the first Ireland get-together since the disappointing World Cup defeat to Argentina.
While there was some discussion about the 43-20 defeat to the Pumas that brought Ireland's campaign to a shuddering halt, Earls says Joe Schmidt didn't dwell on the past too much as he began preparations for the Six Nations.
"There was a bit of both, obviously how we can improve on and what we can do in the future. There wasn't anything too in-depth," he said.
"Joe had promised the (provincial) coaches that he would look after us training-wise on Monday, that we wouldn't be wrecked coming home. Some lads are playing in Europe and some lads have big games in the Pro12 this weekend. It was getting to see each other and probably laying a few seeds as well.
"There wasn't anything new (about the Argentina game). It was just a slow start. I don't know what happened to us. It wasn't great giving them a 17-point lead.
"There may have been one or two small things that could have helped fellas out and stuff, but we didn't get much into it. He likes to look forward as well, solve the problem and look forward."
Putting that to rights can wait for Earls whose focus is purely on Munster in Paris, but, having survived his scare two weeks ago, there is simply a sense of relief that he's playing.