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'I didn't feel any symptoms': Vakatawa explains shock retirement

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

France midfielder Virimi Vakatawa has explained the reason why he has retired from playing rugby with immediate effect at the age of 30. The world of rugby was left in shock on Monday when it emerged that the 32-cap centre had been banned from playing by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby’s medical committee. Vakatawa has now hosted a media conference at the Racing 92 training centre in Paris to explain that a cardiac issue is why he must suddenly quit playing.

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“I didn’t feel any symptoms or anything,” said the New Zealand-born Parisian club legend who arrived in France from Fiji as a teenager. “I had a discussion with the doctor. I have nothing broken, everything is fine. I’m going to stay not far from here, just to clear my head.

“I arrived at 17, I didn’t regret leaving my family at all. I know it was hard. I always tell young people that they were lucky to be here. There are Fijians who will still arrive, I want to help them. I really appreciated having so many people by my side.”

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Another who spoke at the media briefing at Plessis-Robinson on Tuesday was Racing 92 doctor Sylvain Blanchard, who explained that the heart condition was too much of a risk for Vakatawa to continue playing.

“He must stop his career in France for cardiological reasons. A cardiac anomaly had been detected before the 2019 World Cup in Japan. This anomaly, which is not linked to rugby, has been monitored but it is an evolving pathology. The risk has become too great.”

Laurent Travers, the Racing director of rugby, added: “The hardest thing is the length of time we had to wait. The hardest part was announcing it to Virimi and then to the whole group. We know his importance within the group, Racing 92 and French rugby. Virimi is still there and will now be present on the sidelines. Virimi will have to build himself differently, with rugby but differently. We had a lot of discussions with him and his goal is to stay in France. He wants to be able to stay with Racing 92.”

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The media briefing was a club event but so rocked was French rugby with the news of Vakatawa’s shock retirement that even France national team boss Fabien Galthie turned up in person at the conference to pay tribute to the now-retired midfielder. “I would like to thank Racing 92 for allowing me to be here today,” said the teary-eyed Test coach.

“I wanted to accompany Virimi, it’s special so I’m very moved. Fate has meant that he will have played his last two games with Les Bleus in Japan. We will try to get over all that because we know that it can happen in high-level sport, but we still take it [the shock retirement] with full force.

“Monday, when he called me, it touched me. Virimi made many children dream. When we took over the France team, he was a key player in our adventure, in our history. He is an example of what he lives – we must tell our children to enjoy all their matches as if it were the last.”

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