England hooker Dylan Hartley has announced his retirement from professional rugby after failing to recover from a long-standing knee injury.
The 33-year-old former England captain has been out of action since December with knee troubles and missed his country’s run to the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The front rower is England’s second-most capped player of all time, having turned out for the Red Rose on 97 occasions and led the side for 30 Tests as captain, while he also made 251 appearances for club side Northampton Saints.
“I am extremely proud of my journey, both with Saints and representing England, but now is the right time to hang up my playing boots,” Hartley said.
“The last few months have been difficult for me both mentally and physically as I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am no longer able to compete, but I have to thank all the staff at Saints who have all invested so much time in helping me with my rehabilitation, in particular S&C coach Eamonn Hyland.
“I have loved my journey in rugby. I came to England as a teenager hoping to get a few games of rugby and to see the world.
“I could have never predicted that one day I’d play 14 years for such a special club and go on to represent and captain England.
“My career wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m privileged to have experienced some amazing highs while there have also been some personal lows, all of which are powerful experiences that will stay with me forever.
“The final chapter of my career was supposed to go a different way, but that is the nature of professional sport.
“I would not have been able to achieve what I have without the support of my wife Jo, my family, my friends and my teammates. To them all, I am incredibly grateful for their love and unwavering support.”
Hartley enjoyed a brilliant career for his country, earning the second most caps ever behind Jason Leonard’s 114.
He famously led England to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2016 and then followed up that feat by captaining his country as they retained the crown a year later.
Hartley was a true leader both on and off the pitch and, having captained England on 30 occasions, his win rate with the armband of 83 per cent is the second highest ever of all players to have led the Red Rose 15 or more times.