Aviva Premiership

Falcons prop Vea retires due to spinal injury

Newcastle Falcons prop Taione Vea has ended his rugby union career at the age of 27 due to a spinal injury which left him paralysed for "five or six minutes".

Vea, capped six caps by Tonga, on Monday confirmed his retirement from the game after sustaining a serious injury during the Falcons' victory over Sale Sharks in their first game of the Premiership season.

"I took a bad knock in the game against Sale and spent a few nights in hospital, and when I had my scan results unfortunately things didn't come back too well," said Vea.

"I had quite a bit of swelling in the spinal cord, around some really important areas of the neck, and it is just one of those things.

"I was left paralysed for five or six minutes on the field, where I couldn't feel my whole body. That is enough for anybody in a lifetime, and the risk of that happening again if I was to return to playing is quite high.

"It is obviously not the way I wanted to go. At the age I am and the way I felt I was playing, I was planning on a fair few more years. But having spoken to medical professionals and specialists I have had to just accept the fact there is more to life than playing the game I love.

Elaborating on the incident that prompted his retirement, Vea added: "What actually happened was that I passed the ball, relaxed, felt the hit, and even though I didn't know who or how, I knew I'd been hit from behind. As I was falling to ground I could see myself falling. I was perfectly conscious, I just felt a bit of a sting, but as I was falling I couldn't feel anything or control anything.

"I couldn't brace to stop myself falling, my face hit the ground and as I was lying there I couldn't move or feel anything.

"Our head physio Simon Pope was asking me what was going on, I said I couldn't feel anything, I couldn't move and that my arms and legs were gone.

"The medical staff turned me over, and the scariest part was after I asked someone to grab my arms. I was getting more and more agitated saying 'someone please grab my arms' but as I looked up I saw our head of athletic performance Kevin McShane squeezing my hand. I couldn’t feel a thing.

"Eventually after five minutes I started to get a little bit of feeling in my toes, then my feet, but I knew it was serious."

Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: "Tai is an enormously talented and popular member or our squad, and it is devastating to hear the news that he will not be able to carry on playing.

"He was in fantastic form at the time of his injury, he has remained strong throughout what is obviously a very difficult period and he will continue to receive the full support of everybody associated with the club.

"It goes without saying we wish him all the best for the next chapter of his life. He has good people around him, he will always be welcome back at Kingston Park and it is just an incredible shame he has been forced to retire in these circumstances."