Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Elite sport no refuge from heart issues

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Brumbies Ita Vaea. Photo / Ross Setford
Brumbies Ita Vaea. Photo / Ross Setford

Persistent heart issues forced Brumbies No8 Ita Vaea to retire this week and England test cricketer James Taylor to quit because of heart problems.

Whether those problems would have surfaced if Vaea and Taylor, both young men, were recreational sportsmen has not been revealed but you suspect and hope the fitness levels they've reached to play top-level sport will assist in their recovery.

In recent cases the outcome has not been as fortunate. Former Canadian rugby centre John Cannon died in March aged 35 from a suspected heart attack and Geelong's former Brownlow medallist Paul Couch was out for a cycle that same month and died prematurely at 51.

Last year 29-year-old Welsh league player Danny Jones collapsed in a match and died while 37-year-old former Fiji centre Seru Rabeni died recently.

But Hoani MacDonald, the Southland forward who suffered a heart attack in the 2012 national provincial championship, recovered to start coaching the side.

Bouncy Highlanders wing Buxton Popoali'i was forced to quit playing in 2014 after rheumatic fever sent him in for another episode of heart surgery.

Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki retired last year as concussion problems continued to bug him just as Gloucester player Andy Hazell quit rugby after six months of dizziness, mood swings and a sense of detachment.

Springbok and Stormers wing Cornal Hendricks struggled with a heart condition soon after Christmas and was taken out of rugby.

Former England hooker Lee Mears quit rugby at 33 because of a heart problem, so too Welsh prop Rhys Thomas and Irish forward Simon West.

Two time PGA winner Jason Bohn had a heart attack during the Honda Classic in February and after treatment is returning carefully to his golf career.

Leeds prop Kyle Leuluai played the final stages of his league career despite being diagnosed with a heart problem.

The dangers are not restricted or more prevalent in rugby or league. Top class athletes like Hamish Carter, Rob Waddell and Hayden Roulston have been troubled by irregular heart issues as were world champion Australian triathletes Greg Welch and Emma Carney.

And Boston Celtic Larry Bird and player-coach Jerry West, tennis player Mardy Fish and canoeist Birgot Fischer had their careers curtailed by heart problems.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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