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Concussions cause former Ulster player to call time on playing days

By Michael Sadlier

Former Ulster player Ali Birch has announced his retirement from playing with immediate effect after suffering a number of concussions.

The 29-year-old flanker who is captain of City of Armagh in the AIL's Division 2A, and also played at Dungannon as well as having a stint in England with Rotherham Titans, released an emotional statement last night outlining why he could no longer continue playing.

"I have recently taken medical advice following my latest concussion and I have been instructed to retire from playing rugby," Birch said on his Twitter account.

"I wanted the decision taken out of my hands to stop me being reckless.

"I have had a cracking time over the last 18-odd years. I've had the privilege of playing for great clubs and the folk who have supported me, played with and met me along the way have been top class.

"Won't be walking away completely and will remain involved in the sport that's played a massive part in my life."

The former Royal School Armagh pupil was with Ulster from 2009-2013 but was never a regular starter for the senior side.

He hooked up with Rotherham Titans the year he departed Ulster and stayed at the club until summer 2016 when he returned to the province and began playing for Armagh and led the side to their first title in senior rugby when the Palace Grounds club lifted the SONI Ulster Rugby Championship.

Birch also helped Armagh win promotion to the AIL's Division 2A from last season's play-offs though the Mountnorris, Co Armagh, native, will now be denied the chance of leading the team at next week's Ulster Senior Cup final which will be the club's first appearance at the showpiece game.

Meanwhile, Leinster took a firm grip on Pool Three of the European Champions Cup as they inflicted a first home defeat in 12 months on Aviva Premiership champions Exeter.

After a dominant opening period, Johnny Sexton got the visitors' opening try and they took an 8-3 half-time lead.

Exeter's James Short crossed after Sean Cronin's yellow but Jack Conan's try and Isa Nacewa's penalty sealed a win.

Exeter had not been beaten on their own pitch since December 2016 but were outplayed by a powerful Leinster side.

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