Dylan Hartley revealed it felt as if he had died when he missed out on England's World Cup squad, disclosing for the first time the hellish torment of his injury nightmare.
The former England captain, 33, has not played since December 21 having suffered a lingering left knee injury. His last, and 97th, England cap came against Australia in November 2018.
And while he will not retire from the game yet Hartley admits his Test career is all but over.
Dylan Hartley says that it felt as if he'd died when he was left out of England's World Cup squad
'When the World Cup squad was announced, it was almost like I'd died,' said the Northampton Saints hooker in his first interview this year.
'Friends were getting in touch and seeing if I was OK. I wanted to keep playing. Otherwise I would be retired now and doing the media rounds in Japan.
'But in my headspace, I'm still kind of hoping to be involved, but the reality is I'm not going to be unless there are a couple of horrific injuries.
'(I won't be involved in) the Rugby World Cup - that's gone. They've literally flown.
'Ultimately the way I looked at my whole rugby career and how I wanted it to pan out, and how it was going, was that this would have been the ultimate send-off, the dream finish to an international career. The reality is you pick up an injury.
Hartley admitted going to the World Cup would have been a dream send off but injury struck
'For four years we have talked about winning the World Cup with Eddie and I've led that group, been a part of that journey, so to fall at the final hurdle...
'I wake up most nights thinking about it. It doesn't sit well with me, but I have come to terms with it.
'You have to crack on. It's just s***. It's unfortunate, it's the way it goes.
'I genuinely think England have a good chance to go and win it.
'The worst thing for me is to think if my leg wasn't f***** at the moment I could be there with them, winning a World Cup.
'It's hard to swallow. I hope they go and win.' Sportsmail exclusively revealed that Hartley would not be in the England training squad back in June, and he now admits he tried to rush himself back too soon.
'I tried a very aggressive approach, because I was given some deadlines to meet, and it did not work,' he added.
'I basically ended up in a worse position for trying to come back too early.
Hartley discussed his situation with Eddie Jones and admits rushing back from injury
'I had a pretty frank conversation with Eddie Jones and the staff at Northampton, and we agreed a long-term approach is best for my leg.
'It was around the start of the England camps, when they first got together around the start of July. I tried getting back for that and basically put myself in a bit of a hole physically and mentally.'
Hartley would not explain the extent of his knee problem, but was left frustrated that he damaged it further, having 'tweaked' it the fortnight before at home to Newcastle, on Worcester's artificial pitch last December.
'I don't agree with artificial pitches,' he said.
'I'm not in any way blaming the pitch but I'd be interested to see who's actually favouring them.' Hartley then detailed how he has sought expert help in America to rid him of the injury.
On the suggestion of England head coach Jones, who he chatted to at Wimbledon this summer, Hartley spent his holiday budget to visit Bill Knowles - a knee specialist who has worked miracles with Andy Murray and Callum Wilson - out in Philadelphia.
'This guy is world renowned, the best going,' said Hartley.
'I lived in an Airbnb for two weeks, trained twice a day, basically lived abroad in training kit and was too knackered to do anything in the evenings but my missus and little one weren't there so I didn't need to go out for dinner!
'It has given me a nice little springboard.' Hartley is around four weeks from a return to playing for his club, but will not force a comeback.
With no assurances from Jones whatsoever that he will be able to add to his 97 caps the former skipper is desperate just to play again.
Hartley is now focusing on Northampton Saints as he looks to perform consistently
Asked what has kept him going, Hartley said: 'School fees! My daughter has just started school. It's not cheap.
'The realisation that I probably don't have much longer to play. So, one is wanting to play more games and finish the season with the club.
'I don't have a duel team anymore. It's purely Northampton. Just to finish the season and, it's sounds corny, just enjoy it. Enjoy playing.
'No pressure of international rugby. I'm not saying I've retired from that. The way it has gone at the moment, I'm not in their minds.
'I've never counted caps, but it's funny. When you get to 97, you think: "Hmmm, should I have just pushed through and tried to play that game?"
'Not everyone can have the fairy-tale ending like Richie McCaw holding up the World Cup in his last ever game.
'It's not perfect. That's sport. That's life. The good thing it's not done for me just yet. I still want to play. I am still competitive. I am just not fast.
'I'll congratulate the boys when they come home. I'll be hanging off the side of the open-top bus, in my 97th-cap shirt from the Australia match.
'And even that shirt will be old by then, won't it?'
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