Tragic weekend for Ivory Coast – The Max Brito Accident

It was a tragic weekend for Ivory Coast rugby, with their left-wing Max Brito left paralysed with spinal injuries after the game against Tonga in Rustenburg on Saturday, and the death of Maxime Dali, brother of their captain Athanase Dali, on Friday.

Brito, 24, is in the intensive care unit of the Unitas Hospital in Pretoria, but hospital spokesperson Magdel du Preez would not confirm yesterday whether the electrician was still paralysed in his legs and left arm as announced by the hospital on Saturday.

“Brito’s condition is stable and he is breathing on his own,” said du Preez, adding that an operation to defuse the vertebrae was planned for tomorrow. The game was three minutes old when Brito, running out of defence, was tackled by Inoke Afeaki, the Tonga flanker, before several players fell on top of Brito, leaving him prone and motionless on the ground.

The dreadlocked Brito, who is married with two children, plays his club rugby for Biscarosse in France and his fearless tackling has been one of the Ivorian highlights of the World Cup.

Etienne Hugo, the Pool D doctor and an orthopaedic surgeon who treated Brito in Pretoria on Saturday, said it was too early to say if paralysis would be permanent.

“This was a tragic and freak accident, but we are very concerned about spinal injuries in rugby. Law changes have depowered the scrum but the tackle is still a major problem,” said Hugo, chairman of the South African rugby medical committee.

Brito’s injury comes just a fortnight before specialists meet in Sun City for an international congress on rugby medicine.

Spinal injuries at the top level are rare, but Hugo says, especially with rugby being taken to the South African townships, that protection of players, proper coaching and strict interpretation of the laws were paramount at all levels.

The Ivory Coast took to the field at Olympic Park on Saturday wearing black armbands as a tribute to Maxime Dali, a former international centre and brother of World Cup captain and outside-half Athanase.

“Maxime Dali died in an Ivory Coast hospital on Friday. He had been suffering from mental problems for several months,” said Camille Anoma, their media liaison officer.

Maxime Dali, a sports teacher, played in the African qualifying group for the 1991 World Cup, winning three caps, and also played in France for Caen. His father is Francois Dali, one of the founders of Ivorian rugby, a former coach to the national side and now vice-president of the Ivory Coast federation.

The Ivory Coast fly home today and Athanase Dali, a journalist, is hoping to write a diary of the tour. It was meant to be a celebration of a West African adventure to South Africa, but after the events of the last few days it will make sombre reading.

The game itself at Rustenburg was rendered meaningless after the Brito incident. Three players from each side were replaced before Tonga, with four tries to one, ran out 29-11 winners of a scrappy affair which was not helped by pedantic American referee Don Reordan.

Ivory Coast will travel home having conceded 172 points in their first World Cup finals, while Tonga, who flattered to deceive after a promising start against France, have the consolation of their first World Cup finals victory.
05 June 1995

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