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Brain condition rules Ulster Rugby ace Chris Henry out for months

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland rugby star Chris Henry is expected to make a full recovery from the brain condition that will rule him out of action for at least a number of months.

The 30-year-old Ulster flanker suffered what the IRFU described as an "episode" in which he experienced "weakness" on the morning of the win over South Africa on November 8 and was ruled out of that game.

Yesterday, the union released a statement that confirmed Henry had suffered "a temporary blockage of a small blood vessel in his brain" which had caused the turn and that the illness would "require further investigation and specialist opinion" as he recovers at home.

There had been rumours that the player had been struck down with something more serious than the initially reported viral infection, while the initial diagnosis circulated by the IRFU was that the player had experienced a severe migraine.

Despite the serious nature of the incident, it is understood that the player's career is not in jeopardy and it is hoped that he will return to the field of play when he has made a full recovery.

He is likely to be out for an estimated three months, but the situation is described as 'ongoing' and he will continue to be monitored by neurological experts.

Lisburn native Henry has won 16 caps for Ireland since making his debut against Australia in 2010 and was a key component of the team that claimed the Grand Slam last March.

He had been named in the side to face the Springboks despite sitting out some of Ireland's training sessions after enduring a high number of collisions during Ulster's European games, however it is not known whether the two were related.

His health scare is the latest in a series of worrying incidents in the professional game, following Henry's Ireland team-mate Richardt Strauss' discovery of a hole in his heart during last season. The South African player took time away from the game and is now back in the Ireland set-up.

The issue of concussion and head injuries continues to be a hot topic in rugby and the IRFU medical team yesterday stood second row Mike McCarthy down for training after he suffered symptoms consistent with concussion during Sunday's win over Georgia.

With the size and pace of players increasing by the season, there are growing fears that the sport is becoming too dangerous.

The International Rugby Board held a discussion about head injuries in London yesterday, where IRB chief medical officer Martin Raftery said the issue was a complex one.

"You can't identify everyone with concussion, there is no magical test out there. What we are trying to do is as best as possible protect those athletes," he said.

"We've been able to change the culture so we are getting consistency in the post-game management of those players."

Meanwhile, perhaps we should have foreseen what was to come when the news broke that members of the Australian team had hit the town during the build-up to last year's clash.

But it just didn't feel like the teams who had just crossed paths at the Aviva Stadium were on very different trajectories and that, when the Wallabies returned to Dublin a year later, they'd be looking up at Ireland on the world rankings table.

Joe Schmidt cut a somewhat shell-shocked figure in the media room after watching his side concede four tries to nil and he made a plea for patience.

In contrast to the frustrated Irish camp, the Wallabies were jubilant. Ewen McKenzie looked a genius.

Over the course of the 367 days that have followed, the world as we knew it was turned on its head. The Wallabies arrived into Dublin on Sunday with Michael Cheika at the helm and on a mission to restore their fans' faith.

The Ireland team they defeated 32-15 are now Six Nations champions and the third best team in the world. The Australia defeat has lingered in the Irish consciousness because it was the one day things have gone really wrong under the New Zealander.

Since that day, Ireland have played 10 times and won eight. Australia, meanwhile, have won eight from 14.

It is not a shabby return but it was combined with off-pitch wranglings that left the Australian head coach red faced and out of a job.

Now, Cheika is in the position Schmidt was last year.

What hasn't changed, however, are the talents the Wallabies possess.

They still have wondrous hands and willing, talented runners. Their off-loading game puts Ireland's in the shade, while their defence is aggressive.

They were one score away from New Zealand and France, while they defeated Wales.

Ireland will need to be creative in order to find a way to avoid a repeat of last year's rout.

Over the ensuing 12 months they have become a more confident, slicker outfit able and willing to beat the elite teams, but despite Australia's recent struggles, they'll need to be at their very best.

Belfast Telegraph

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