French rugby star from Fiji Vakatawa hangs up his boots over ailing heart

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Fiji star for the French rugby team Virimi Vakatawa
Fiji star for the French rugby team Virimi Vakatawa ... “It’s tough to leave this family, but I never had regrets.” Image: Fiji Times

By Rodney Duthie in Suva

Kiwi-born and Fiji-raised France rugby centre Virimi Vakatawa has revealed that he has a heart condition that has forced him to retire from the game.

The Naluwai, Naitasiri man made the announcement during the Paris rugby club Racing 92’s media conference last night attended by France coach Fabien Galthié, who choked back tears while giving a tribute.

Vakatawa, 30, said: “Rugby is my passion. The hardest moment of all of this was yesterday in front of my teammates.

“It was very difficult to tell all those with whom I’d spent time both on and off the field.”

The 31 test international arrived in France in 2010 and represented both Racing 92 and the France 7s team as well as playing for France in the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo. He was expected to play a big role in the French team for the Paris World Cup next year.

Racing 92’s club doctor Dr Sylvain Blanchard said that a “cardiological anomaly” had been found in 2019 “just before the Rugby World Cup in Japan”.

It had been monitored closely by the Parisian club’s medical team but its “pathology had evolved” since.

Health in jeopardy
The cardiac problem jeopardised the health of Vakatawa and medical officials have banned him from playing in France.

Dr Blanchard said the condition was first diagnosed before Tokyo in 2019, but it was decided at the time that Vakatawa could continue playing under extra surveillance.

However, the medical experts now say his condition is too risky.

“It is a pathology that is likely to put him at risk in intense sports activities,” Dr Blanchard said. “And, obviously, professional rugby is part of those activities.”

The 30-year-old Vakatawa was born in Rangiora, New Zealand, raised in Fiji — the country of his heritage — and arrived in France at 17.

He was out injured while France won the Six Nations Grand Slam this year but was back as the starting centre in both test wins in Japan in July.

“It’s tough to leave this family, but I never had regrets,” Vakatawa said.

Rodney Duthie is Fiji Times sports editor. Republished with permission.

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