Newcastle Falcons prop Taione Vea has been forced to retire from rugby after suffering a spinal injury in their Premiership opener against Sale Sharks.
The 27-year-old made 22 competitive appearances for the club after joining from London Welsh in the summer of 2015, and has been capped six times by Tonga.
Announcing the news, Vea said: “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. 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.”
Newcastle 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.”