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Head rules the heart

Breaking away: Concussion has forced Michael Lipman into retirement.

Breaking away: Concussion has forced Michael Lipman into retirement. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

MICHAEL Lipman made a decision three years ago. It was one that he insists he does not regret, but it is one that now looms large over his future.

It was then that, worried about the number of head knocks that he had received playing professional rugby in England, he sought medical advice. The recommendation he received was that he should retire.

He chose to ignore it and continued playing the game he loved, not revealing the information to the club he had been playing for, Bath, or the Super Rugby franchise he was to join, the Melbourne Rebels.

For a while it looked as though his decision could pay off because he had one of the best seasons of his career last year, a standout in a struggling Rebels team that finished last in its inaugural season.

But the 32-year-old now stands on the precipice of a new life after his old one - the only one he has really known - was suddenly brought to a close last week. Lipman finally made the decision that he could have made in 2009.

Faced with worsening side-effects from concussion - the openside breakaway estimates he has had more than 30 cases throughout his career - he retired immediately, three weeks before the end of the Rebels' season.

''I don't regret it at all. It was my decision to keep going,'' says Lipman, who had not been re-signed by the Rebels beyond this year. ''A couple of professors said you should retire but I always thought there was a lot more rugby in me and I didn't really think anything of it at the time.

''I was like, 'I'm a rugby player, I'm going to keep playing because that's what I do'. I loved the game and just wanted to keep doing it and I thought that was the right decision.

''Last year I had one of the best seasons I've had. I really enjoyed playing Super Rugby and I didn't have any real episodes that were going to keep me out for some time. I didn't really regret that at all.

''I might when I'm 70,'' he adds, while laughing. ''No, it will be fine. People go against medical advice all the time. That's just the way it is because you love the game.''

Lipman had another motivation to continue playing. He received a nine-month ban in 2009 for initially refusing a drugs tests when playing for Bath. It was a controversial case that stemmed from allegations that he was among a group of players who used drugs at an end-of-season celebration. Lipman denied the claims and twice refused to submit to a hair-follicle test, but agreed six weeks after the initial request, with a negative result.

''I wanted to redeem myself and get myself back to where I should be and how I wanted to be remembered,'' he says. Lipman returned to Australia and played Sydney club rugby in 2010.

''I really should have hung up the boots, but Melbourne were really great and gave me the opportunity … that first game against the Waratahs last year was one of the biggest of my career, simply because I had to prove that I'm back and I've put it all behind me.''

Lipman admits that the recent publicity involving former players of contact sports who had suffered long-term damage from concussion had alarmed him.

As much as athletes deny it, he says the fear of what their future lives may become as a result of serious injury is in the back of their minds.

''I probably should have [told Bath about the medical advice] but at the same time I wanted to keep playing and I wanted another contract,'' he says. ''If you let them know that you have got this advice, then they'll never give you a contract. So you've got to keep it to yourself, because at the end of the day I want to play rugby and to do that you've got to hold things in, and that was all my decision.

''When I had medicals [for the Rebels] I told them I've had a few knocks here and there but never really told them the true extent of what it was, but you've got to do that to get a contract.''

But Lipman says the side-effects (dizziness and exhaustion) have now become too debilitating to continue playing.

While resting, the symptoms subside and mornings are always better than evenings. But they flare at training and he has not played since receiving several head knocks against the Western Force in round 13.

He made his decision after not being able to cope with training early last week.

''Unfortunately, Monday and Tuesday didn't go really well, and that was that really, and I decided it was time,'' he says.

''I just had the symptoms still there, the dizziness, being very clouded and quite exhausted. You feel like going to sleep where your eyes are half open, you can't think and you have difficulty concentrating.''

Lipman, who also struggles with emotional extremes and depression, says he would now like to help other athletes facing similar problems. He has been invited to speak at conferences about the still relatively little-known effects of concussion.

He will leave the sport satisfied with an impressive career.

He was born in London but grew up in Sydney and played in junior Australian teams.

He worked as a labourer by day, and nights at the Manly leagues club, while also training during the week.

Lipman played in the era of open-side break-aways such as George Smith, Phil Waugh and David Croft, so was down in the pecking order of Australian teams. He headed to England in 2001 to play for Bristol, and after two years moved to Bath.

It is a decision he has never regretted. Given his chance, Lipman impressed and won selection in the England team, which he played for 10 times, debuting against New Zealand in 2004.

''I had the opportunity to face the haka,'' he says. ''How many people get to do that? It's a dream come true no matter whatever jersey you've got on.

''When I was a kid, when I was playing for the Australian 19s, I would have loved to have played for Australia, but unfortunately that wasn't my path. The opportunity came to me to play for England and I was always going to do that. You'd be silly to turn it down.''

He is now looking enthusiastically towards his future. He has seen some of his friends' lives spiral once their playing careers have finished and he is determined not to follow.

Lipman says the support he has received from family, friends and social media has given him confidence that there is a role for him, ideally in a public relations, marketing or client relations-type role.

''Having that support network is fantastic [and I realised] I can do something other than rugby even though that's the only thing I've ever done except for labouring and working in a leagues club pouring beers for some old bloke,'' he says.

''You realise you can actually do a lot more, so it's an exciting time.''


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Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13vs HUR 17 Report Stats
HIG 20vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29vs LIO 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19vs STO 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 10vs LIO 13 Report Stats
RED 5vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29vs SHA 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED 0vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10vs SHA 27 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 57vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28vs BRU 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17vs LIO 18 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 37vs CHT 27 Report Stats
HIG 39vs STO 21 Report Stats
WAR 23vs BLU 11 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA 15vs FOR 9 Report Stats
BUL 31vs CRU 19 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR 25vs STO 20 Report Stats
REB 23vs RED 15 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF 23vs BLU 16 Report Stats
BRU 20vs CHT 3 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA 10vs CRU 52 Report Stats
LIO 22vs BUL 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU 16vs BRU 14 Report Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 20vs HIG 25 Report Stats
WAR 18vs STO 32 Report Stats
FOR 15vs CHT 24 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 23vs SHA 21 Report Stats
BUL 43vs RED 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 9vs CHF 26 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR 24vs WAR 29 Report Stats
HIG 30vs BLU 24 Report Stats
BRU 8vs REB 13 Report Stats
FOR 6vs STO 13 Report Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 10vs BUL 17 Report Stats
CHT 17vs RED 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 35vs FOR 27 Report Stats
BRU 31vs HIG 18 Report Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 29vs BLU 15 Report Stats
WAR 18vs REB 16 Report Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 34vs CHT 29 Report Stats
STO 15vs BUL 13 Report Stats
RED 19vs HUR 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 48vs SHA 15 Report Stats
BRU 10vs WAR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 41vs FOR 24 Report Stats
HUR 29vs CRU 23 Report Stats
REB 16vs CHF 15 Report Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 25vs STO 17 Report Stats
BUL 35vs LIO 33 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 58vs RED 17 Report Stats
REB 42vs BLU 22 Report Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 32vs SHA 24 Report Stats
FOR 18vs WAR 11 Report Stats
LIO 28vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 25vs BRU 24 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 23vs BUL 18 Report Stats
RED 46vs REB 29 Report Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 22vs CHF 18 Report Stats
WAR 33vs SHA 18 Report Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO 20vs BRU 30 Report Stats
CHT 24vs HIG 45 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF 34vs BUL 20 Report Stats
RED 14vs SHA 21 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 5vs HUR 29 Report Stats
WAR 32vs CRU 22 Report Stats
FOR 3vs HIG 23 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 17vs LIO 40 Report Stats
STO 31vs REB 15 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 28vs HUR 18 Stats
BRU 0vs BUL 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs REB 0 03:10Growthpoint Kings Park
HIG 0vs CHF 0 17:35Rugby Park
FOR 0vs RED 0 19:40nib Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO 0vs CHT 0 01:05DHL Newlands
LIO 0vs WAR 0 03:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 0vs HIG 0 17:35McLean Park
FOR 0vs BRU 0 21:00nib Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB 0vs BUL 0 15:30AAMI
BLU 0vs CRU 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs CHF 0 19:40SS
CHT 0vs WAR 0 23:00FSS
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 0vs LIO 0 01:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU 0vs HIG 0 17:35EP
REB 0vs FOR 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU 0vs CRU 0 15:30GIO Stadium
CHF 0vs HUR 0 17:35Yarrow Stadium
WAR 0vs RED 0 19:40AS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs CHT 0 01:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA 0vs STO 0 03:10Growthpoint Kings Park
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
7 0vs 7 0 09:00
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
7 0vs 7 0 09:00
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
7 0vs 7 0 09:00
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
7 0vs 7 0 09:00
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
7 0vs 7 0 09:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 13 12 1 0 143 57
Waratahs 13 9 4 0 50 41
Stormers 13 9 4 0 42 38
Chiefs 13 9 4 0 87 44
Brumbies 13 7 6 0 102 38
Lions 14 8 6 0 -27 36
Highlanders 13 9 4 0 89 43
Bulls 13 7 6 0 29 35
View all
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