Curtain call as host of greats announce retirement

The end of a Rugby World Cup cycle often coincides with veteran players deciding the time is right to announce their retirement and 2023 is no exception.

The end of a Rugby World Cup cycle often coincides with veteran players deciding the time is right to announce their retirement and 2023 is no exception.

The quarter-final weekend was marked by the final appearances of a host of star performers over the years. For some, it meant the end of any sort of rugby, with others now turning their attentions to club action.

So with just four teams left in contention to win the World Cup in a fortnight, here are some of the players who have officially called it a day.

Dan Biggar (Wales)

Dan Biggar had announced that he would be retiring from international rugby after this tournament, and that came with Wales’s defeat to Argentina in the last eight.

Biggar did his bit, scoring a try, two conversions and a penalty, despite being hampered by injury. It was not enough though as Wales eventually went down 29-17.

Over the course of a 15-year international career, Biggar has established himself as one of the greats of Welsh rugby. He was part of Wales teams that won three Guinness Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2019 and will leave a big void behind. He will now turn his attentions to club rugby in France, just up the road from the quarter-final in Marseille, playing in Toulon.

Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls (Ireland)

Saturday’s quarter-finals were all about the fly-halves, with Johnny Sexton also playing his final game of international rugby.

The Ireland skipper almost led his side to a first-ever Men’s World Cup semi-final but they eventually fell short against New Zealand, 28-24.

But he will be remembered as one of Ireland’s greatest-ever players, winning four Championship titles and two Grand Slams, as well as being crowned World Rugby Player of the Year in 2018.

With 1108 points, he is Ireland’s top points scorer in international rugby, while he is also the top points scorer in the history of the Guinness Six Nations.

Joining him in retiring is Keith Earls, who had fought his way back to make it to 100 Test caps while also making it to the World Cup.

Injury kept him out of the 23 for the New Zealand game, leaving Earls on 101 caps with his last appearance coming in the opening win over Romania.

Over the course of his career, Earls scored 36 tries for Ireland, second only to Brian O’Driscoll as the country’s all-time record try-scorer.

Uini Atonio and Romain Taofifenua (France)

France fell one point short against world champions South Africa in a brilliant encounter on Sunday night in Paris.

For two members of the France 23, it was a final appearance in blue with tighthead prop Uini Atonio and Romain Taofifenua both retiring from Test rugby after the game.

Atonio had already said as much before the tournament, and he will take some replacing having cemented his place as France’s first-choice tighthead prop over the last two years, including starting every game of the Grand Slam success in 2022.

Second row Taofifenua joined him in announcing his retirement, having also been a crucial cog off the bench for Fabien Galthié’s side over the past four years.

Having made his debut all the way back in 2012, Taofifenua bows out having made 49 caps for his country, including playing a key role in the 2022 Slam.

Stuart McInally (Scotland)

Also stuck one cap short of a half-century is former Scotland skipper Stuart McInally. The man who memorably sparked one of the greatest comebacks ever, when Scotland came from 31-0 down to draw at Twickenham, is giving up on rugby to become a pilot.

After being initially omitted from Scotland’s World Cup squad, he was called up when Dave Cherry was ruled out through injury.

However, McInally was injured himself, meaning that he did not get the opportunity to win a 50th cap, signing off on 49 like Taofifenua.