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Cruel blow for Wardlaw on cusp of Super Rugby career

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019    Getty Images

The 29-year-old was named last week in the Blues Investec Super Rugby squad, his first chance to play at Super Rugby level.

However, after medical checks he has been forced to make an immediate retirement from rugby.

He was found to have three fused vertebrae in his neck and after further tests and extensive consultations with experts he was advised he should not play rugby again.

Wardlaw, who had made 20 appearances for Bay of Plenty, was born with the condition but had played sport and been active throughout his life. He played for Bay of Plenty through the grades before focusing on his family and career.

He returned to rugby four years ago, putting his career on hold in order to pursue his rugby dreams. He played a key role in the success of the Bay of Plenty's Steamers team that won promotion to the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership this year.

"I thought I had finally made it," Wardlaw said.

"This was my dream to play for the Blues. I have had the fused vertebrae since birth and it has not stopped me doing anything.

"But to then receive this news that I should give up rugby for the rest of my life is hard to come to grips with.

"The medical people have gone to a number of specialists and they have all said the same thing. That is, if I got a knock in the wrong position I could end up as a tetraplegic, or worse, I could die.

"I need to be thankful that this was found out, although right now I am still gutted because this was my dream," he said.

Wardlaw said fitness had always been an interest, and he will to move into strength and conditioning training as a way of remaining involved in sport.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he felt for Wardlaw who was set to become the oldest rookie in the Blues side.

"Baden has worked so hard and impressed us with his work ethic and quality of play. We are bitterly disappointed for him but at the same time this is a very serious condition which may have been life-threatening," he said.

The Blues will announce a replacement player in the near future.