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Pro D2 club tweets the name of Vakatawa replacement at Racing

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

A Pro D2 French club has named the player that will replace Virimi Vakatawa at Racing after the shock Monday revelation that the France midfielder had retired from playing rugby with immediate effect at the age of 30. Club doctor Sylvain Blanchard explained the following day at a media briefing that a heart condition was too much of a risk for Vakatawa to continue playing.

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“He must stop his career in France for cardiological reasons,” said the medic. “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.”

With the new Top 14 season already underway and Racing having started with a 25-19 home win last Saturday over Castres, the Parisians were suddenly left with a massive hole to quickly fill in their midfield.

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It has now been claimed that the vacancy is closed as Jean-Baptiste Aldige, the president of the Biarritz, has tweeted that Racing have signed former All Blacks centre Francis Saili, who had been at the heart of a curious standoff with the Pro D2 club this summer.

“Good luck to Francis Saili, Alisa Rose, Frankie and Kyrie in their new stage of life @racing92,” write the Biarritz boss. “Can’t wait for the Paris derby against @lucas_peyres and @Mat_Hirigoyen. Thanks to Jacky Lorenzetti and Laurent Travers for their responsiveness and respect for @BOPBweb.”

Racing have yet to confirm that Saili has officially joined them as the replacement for the now-retired Vakatawa, but the player had been agitating for a move elsewhere for quite some time. It was June 8, following relegation to the second tier after a single year back in the French top flight, when Biarritz named Saili as one of the 19 players who would be leaving ahead of the 2022/23 season.

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However, rumoured Top 14 moves to the likes of Bordeaux and Stade Francais failed to lead to anything concrete as Biarritz wanted the remainder of Saili’s contract through to 2024 bought out. Following an extended off-season at home in New Zealand, Saili eventually returned to Biarritz in recent weeks and faced the prospect of having to turn out in the Pro D2 until the Vakatawa story broke at Racing.

Speaking about his shock retirement, Vakatawa said on Tuesday: “I didn’t feel any symptoms or anything. 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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