Mental health awareness has been thrust to the forefront of rugby in recent seasons, current players explaining the various difficulties they have encountered in trying to carve out a successful career. That story sharing has helped to encourage stars from the past open up about their own issues, particularly when trying to settle into life after their playing career has ended. 

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Ex-Springbok forward AJ Venter is the latest big name to give an insight into the problem, the 46-year-old revealing the adjustment once he hung the boots wasn’t easy following a 25-cap Test career at back row and lock. 

“A few years after rugby, I suffered from anxiety and depression and actually ended up having a nervous breakdown at one stage,” said the ex-Free State, Lions, Sharks and Western Province player in an interview with Sport 24.

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“There are many reasons for it and the key is to identify the issues and fix them if you can. If you allow it to, anxiety and fear can cloud everything and you start to neglect the small things you should be grateful for in life.

“It was obviously a really tough time for me but I came out of it successfully and didn’t make use of any medicine. With hard work and surrounding myself with the right people, I got through that difficult patch fabulously,” continued Venter, who in 2002 helped New Zealand’s Richie McCaw wrestle pitch-invading spectator Pieter van Zyl to the ground after he had attacked referee David McHugh in a Tri-Nations match.

“I don’t want that tough time over again but I look back at it now with absolute gratitude purely because in times of hardship that is when we grow as humans.

“When everything is hunky-dory we tend to stagnate but when we are really under pressure and stress, we dig deep and show that we are resilient. I came out the other side as a much better man and everything improved in my life.”

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