Bricklayer turned Newport Gwent Dragons star and seven-times capped Wales international, Pontypool’s Lloyd Burns, 28, tells Robert Owen about his devastation following a career-ending injury at the height of a fairytale rise to the pinnacle of international rugby – and the coaching role he is fulfilling now in Gwent.

I REMEMBER the day I got the call from the doctor.

It was as simple as him saying I could never play again and it was all over like that really.

The days that followed were emotional, dark days. It still nags at me now, but you have just got to do your best to deal with it. It was really hard to go from such an amazing experience at the World Cup, to knowing I would never play again.

I was devastated. My rugby career started at Talywain mini’s under-8s, and I’m a Pontnewynydd boy through and through. I went to St Alban’s Church RC, both primary and secondary.

No-one pushed me to play, it was just something I enjoyed.

From there I went onto Pontypool United Youth, at under 14s, 15s and 16s, after a short stint with Cwmbran. Then I went straight into the senior team.

I remember my first game for Pontypool. I was 17 and Steve Jones was the coach. We played Newport at Rodney Parade.

I can’t remember the date or the score, but we beat them. I think I did okay. I played a number 6/7 then, in the back row.

I was a bricklayer then too. We were sub contracting, working all over.

Then I decided to switch to hooker. I had a couple of games in that position for Pontypool and then I dropped down the divisions to Pontypool United for a while, while I made the switch.

I went back to Pontypool, who were in the Premiership, and then Cross Keys approached me, a feeder club for the Newport Gwent Dragons. I was captain there for about a season and a half.

Then I went to the Dragons. They had been watching me during my time with Cross Keys and kept drafting me in and out of the squad. I would train with them for three to four months at a time, but there was no full-time contract for me so they would release me then. That happened two or three times. I would keep dropping in and out.

It was frustrating. Especially as it made finding work in between really difficult.

Luckily my mate, Stuart Green owned his own company, A&S Brickwork, and he was great with me, helping me out. He was really understanding and flexible.

Eventually the Dragons offered me a full-time contract. That was when I stopped working. It was a massive change.

To be honest it’s an easier living.

You are training all day every day, but it’s not like being on a building site. You are doing what you love to do. All the hard work had paid off then.

I was 23/24. But I wasn’t straight into the first team. I was on the bench quite often and got minutes here and there. When I got my chance I think I took it really.

One game stands out in my mind for the Dragons. It was Cardiff Blues at home in 2010. There was a big crowd and it was a nice sunny day. It was just a really good game. I had been full-time with the Dragons for two seasons before I got the call up for Wales.

I got the call up via text. It just said ‘congratulations you have been selected for the Wales squad to face the Barbarians. Be here at this time’.

It was quite random and informal really. But like my whole family I was delighted. Not that I got the chance to celebrate. In fact I couldn’t even drink at my wedding, because the game was the next day.

My wife, Rachael, and I were married at a church in Coed-y-paen in Pontypool, We had the reception at the Carpenters Arms down the road, and the evening do at Greenmeadow Golf Club in Cwmbran.

I had the day off from the squad and got to stay at home but I had to leave home the next morning to be at the Vale Hotel for 7.45am. Luckily Rachael was alright about it. She was just pleased for me.

I knew some of the boys in the squad from the Dragons, like Toby [Faletau], Charteris and Lydiate. But it was still quite daunting because I did not know that many people. That said I settled in quite quickly. They are all just rugby boys at the end of the day. We are all the same. When you have met them once you are friends for life.

The Millennium Stadium was everything I expected and more on the day of the game. It sounds cliché but the atmosphere literally did send chills down my spine.

When you work so hard for something and then you achieve it, it means a lot. Before I knew it I was in the training camp for the World Cup. It was a big squad before the cut, and we were all working really hard. To be told I had made it, I was just buzzing. In the build up to the tournament we had really good preparation in Poland.

We used the cryotherapy chamber. It’s weird. You go in knackered and come out feeling fresh. It helps your muscles no end. I think we could all tell we were in good shape going into the tournament. But to go there and finish fourth in the world was special.

But then we got back, and I was first out of action in January. I remember the day I got my injury well. I was training with the Dragons in the indoor barn and we were doing scrimmaging practice. I hit the scrum and felt this sharp shooting pain in my neck.

I knew something was wrong but it took about three days for them to figure out the problem. I had a ruptured artery in my neck. There are only two arteries in your neck feeding your brain, so it was obviously serious. I felt unwell, but I hoped I could return.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. When the doctor told me I was devastated, gutted. You name it I was feeling it.

I definitely do still battle with it now. I was on a downer for a long time. Luckily, my son was born a week later. He lessened the blow and took my mind off it.

Oscar Byron is 18 months now. He’s already a bit of a brute so I’m hoping he will be a player, but it’s up to him. Following the news my career was over I took about six to seven months off then to spend with him and Rachael.

Greg Woods, the rugby development manager for the Dragons approached me about doing some coaching hours here and there. I’m not contracted with anyone, I just do it as and when. It had mostly been Little Star Camps across Risca, Blackwood and Torfaen.

I’m also coaching Pontypool Schools divisional side. I enjoy it. It’s totally different to playing. And it takes some getting used to. That said sometimes it makes me miss playing because I am still in that environment. I have no idea if will do it full-time. The jump from an amateur coach to a pro one is a big, but I have done some of my coaching badges.

But then I have always thought about being a firefighter. So maybe that is an option.