Boroughmuir Bear Jerry Blyth-Lafferty draws motivation from serious spinal injury

Teenage hooker spent several months in a brace after suffering double fractures on each side of his lower spine

Jerry Blyth-Lafferty of Boroughmuir Bears is tackled by Stirling Wolves' Logan Jarvie Image: Scottish Rugby/SNS
Jerry Blyth-Lafferty of Boroughmuir Bears is tackled by Stirling Wolves' Logan Jarvie Image: Scottish Rugby/SNS

AS an 18-year-old just moving into senior rugby, Boroughmuir Bears hooker Jerry Blyth-Lafferty’s form in the ongoing Super6 Championship has received plaudits from many quarters, and when you find out that in late 2019 into early 2020 he was in a spinal brace for five months, then the way he has adapted to men’s rugby has been even more impressive.

Indeed, because of the injury and then the pandemic there were around 22 months when he was unable to play a competitive rugby fixture.

Blyth-Lafferty and his Bears team mates are currently preparing for Saturday’s Championship play-off semi-final away to defending champions Ayrshire Bulls. Graham Shiel’s men will be the underdogs for sure, but the hooker, who has an old head on young shoulders, is clearly used to dealing with adversity.


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“I was in a spinal brace for five months because I had a double fracture in my lower spine around the time I was involved with the Scotland under-16s,” Blyth-Lafferty recounts. “The injury did not come from one particular incident, it just happened over time and by the time I was getting out of the brace and thinking about playing again the pandemic hit [in March 2020].

“It meant that when I got back to playing for Boroughmuir under-18s as the 2021-22 season kicked in around August/September 2021, I had missed about 22 months of rugby, so you can imagine how keen I was to play the first game when it came around.

“In the lead up to the spinal brace, I had been to various different chiropractors and osteopaths and they were all saying the same thing, that it was a muscular problem and there was nothing sinister going on.

“I got an X-ray which didn’t show up anything, but when I went for a CT scan it showed the double fractures on each side of my lower spine.

“It was a bit of a shock and a bit scary to hear that, especially as I’d been carrying the injury for a couple of months and people had been telling me just to stretch off regularly and that it was just muscular. To find out it was a lot more serious than that was a lot to take in when I was so young.”

During the period of time he had in the spinal brace Blyth-Lafferty was unable to do any exercise at all apart from light stretching and it also impacted his studies at Firrhill High School in Edinburgh.

“I couldn’t do rugby, I couldn’t go to the gym and I also had to sit out PE at school too, so it was a frustrating time,” he said. “There were also concerns about completing my Nat Five exam. It was looking like I might not be able to do the physical part of the assessment, but thankfully I was just out of the brace in time and was able to do low impact sports like table tennis and badminton.

“During the time out my parents were really supportive as well as my friends and my brother [Ollie, who now plays for Boroughmuir at under-18 level]. Mum and Dad just kept reassuring me that lots of people come back from similar and that was good to hear and, when I could, I slowly built back up to rugby training to make sure that I was doing things right.”

 

With rugby back in full flow in the 2021-22 season and Blyth-Lafferty back fully fit, he played a big part in Boroughmuir under-18s excellent campaign. In March he was rewarded with a place in the Edinburgh under-18 squad for their Junior 1872 Cup match with Glasgow in Melrose.

They won that 50-12 and then he and team mate Liam McConnell [who is now a team-mate at the Bears and is an Edinburgh Rugby academy player] also helped their club lift the National Youth Cup at Murrayfield soon after.

They edged out West of Scotland 31-24 in that one thanks to a late McConnell try converted by Greg Anderson and Blyth-Lafferty said: “It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the best performance of the season, but we got the job done in the end and to win a trophy like that with my best mates was something I’ll never forget, especially given that we all missed a lot of rugby during the pandemic and the fact that I also had my injury.

“Soon after that I was away to France with Scotland for the Six Nations under-18 Festival and I learnt a lot on that trip, even playing a bit at loose-head too.

“Representing Scotland with a club mate like Liam and some other good friends was a nice feeling and left me wanting more.”

That ‘more’ he mentions could come soon with Scotland under-20 selection, although there is certainly strong competition for the hooker spots with the likes of Elliot Young (Heriot’s Super6) and Marcus Brogan (Hawick) also just out of school as well as older players in the mix.

 

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Blyth-Lafferty has been around Meggetland for as long as he can remember. His father, Billy Blyth, played for Boroughmuir for many years – turning out a bit in the 1st XV, a lot in the 2nd XV and for the social teams into his 50s – so his two sons were able to watch him play at the tail end of his career and were both inducted into the Minis at Meggetland at an early age.

He played right through the age-grades for ‘Muir and even before he left Firrhill in the summer he was playing for the Bears in the Sprint Series which ran from April to June.

“It was a big step up, particularly in the line-out and in terms of the set piece, but the senior players were brilliant with me and the involvement in the Sprint Series really showed me what I needed to work on heading into the Championship,” Blyth-Lafferty, who is taking a year out to focus on rugby just now and is a stage two academy player with Scottish Rugby, said.

“The coaches [Shiel, Alex Toolis and Davie Wilson] are great at helping me learn, but they also push me and I like that, while being part of a young hooking group alongside Corey Tait and Iain Carmichael has also helped me and pushed me on.

“It’s been good to have had so much game time in the Championship and as a team we have improved a lot. We just want to go to the Bulls and give it everything we have got on Saturday.”


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About Gary Heatly 320 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.