Concussion fears force Ant Fainga'a into retirement

by Emma Greenwood

Anthony Fainga'a has called an end to his rugby career due to ongoing issues with concussion, which were so severe he had to be held up at the altar during his twin brother's wedding.

The classy centre, who played 23 Tests with the Wallabies and was a member of the Reds' Super Rugby championship-winning team in 2011, said his family had welcomed the decision after he struggled with multiple concussions.

Fainga'a, who is set to move back to Brisbane with his family to work in the bond and property insurance industry, has been playing in Japan for the past three seasons and said he had opportunities to continue in the sport but had made the right call.

"I'm probably only one more head knock away from being a vegetable or not being able to play with my kids," Fainga'a told Fox Sports News.

Anthony Fainga'a has become a consistent starter for Kintetsu. Photo: Getty ImagesThe 32-year-old suffered several head knocks during his playing career, including one, during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where he was taken from the field after losing consciousness for more than a minute.

But he said it was far from the worst, or the last knock he suffered.

"After a couple of really big head knocks, I had to make a big decision," Fainga'a said, recalling an occasion more than two years ago when he realised the effect concussions were having on his health.

"In 2016, my twin brother (fellow Wallabies representative Saia) got married and at the altar, I was actually getting held up because of the head knocks.

"I received a couple of really big head knocks over my career and I was standing at the altar getting held up, I got walked out by someone.

"I got a few head knocks last year and after all these head knocks I had to make a decision, make a choice about what I wanted to do with my future.

"I love the rugby game so much but I needed to look after my mental health."

Fainga'a said retiring was a difficult call but he had to "own" his ongoing health issues.

Saia and Ant Faingaa have spent their whole careers together. Photo: Getty Images"When I would speak it out loud, it was an easy decision but when I was thinking about it, it was like, how hard is this, I love the game and I've got offers to keep going and I should play still," he said.

The reaction when he told his family though confirmed it was the right call.

"They would never say: 'It's time to hang the boots up'. But I told them and they were so happy for me," he said of brothers Saia, who plays for London Irish and Colby, who is with Irish side Connacht.

Fainga'a told Fox Sports News he he would encourage other players to make the tough call on their future if they were in the same situation.

"My message would be it's never too early, it's never too late to finish up," he said.

"Everyone wants to keep playing, everyone loves rugby but it only takes that one head knock to (do damage).

"Especially for younger players, they need to make the hard decision.

"The easy decision is to keep playing, the hard choice is to say I'm going to give this up and go and do something else."