Wales, Cardiff Blues and British & Irish Lions flanker Sam Warburton OBE has announced his retirement from professional rugby.
Warburton, 29, has been capped 74 times by Wales, with 34 of those appearances coming in the Championship over the course of seven years.
The former Wales captain led his country to a historic Grand Slam triumph in 2012 and appeared four times in the Championship-winning campaign the following year.
The Wales great led his country for a record 49 times, appeared at two Rugby World Cups and has five British & Irish Lions caps.
He received the first of these in 2013 when he led the British & Irish Lions to a series victory in Australia and the last in his final match of rugby – the Lions’ test draw against the All Blacks in June 2017.
Following the series in New Zealand, Warburton has been working to recover from neck and knee surgery and returned to training this summer.
Since returning to pre-season with Cardiff Blues it became clear to Warburton that he wouldn’t be able to return to the high standards he has set throughout his career and has reluctantly made the decision to retire.
“Unfortunately, after a long period of rest and rehabilitation the decision to retire from rugby has been made with my health and wellbeing as a priority as my body is unable to give me back what I had hope for on my return to training,” explained Warburton, at www.cardiffblues.com
“I cannot thank the Welsh Rugby Union and Cardiff Blues enough, who have gone beyond the call of duty, in providing the support I received to help me get back on the field, for which I will be forever grateful.
“Since I first played aged 10 at Llanishen Fach Primary School, then Whitchurch High School and Rhiwbina Juniors RFC, I always dreamed of playing for my hometown club the Cardiff Blues, Wales and the British and Irish Lions. To look back on my career, I’m extremely proud of what I managed to achieve.
“There are so many people who helped me along the way from schoolteachers, coaches, friends and family. I thank you so much for supporting my dreams and aspirations. I hope they too can take some pride from my career.
“I would like the make special mention of Warren Gatland. Without the faith he had in me and his unwavering support I would never have had the career I was able to pursue.
“Countless people work behind the scenes in professional rugby but I would like to thank to the fantastic medical teams at both WRU and Cardiff Blues who have looked after me throughout my career.
“To my amazing wife Rachel and my close family and friends who have endured the emotional rollercoaster of playing professional rugby, I am so lucky to have such a fantastic support network and loving family to help me get through all the testing times.
“Lastly, to all the many fans, with whom I’ve shared some fantastic memories with, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for all your support. From providing a random hug in a supermarket, or simply offering words of support and encouragement, to hearing a cheer after my name was announced at the national stadium, you are what makes playing professional rugby so special and such a privilege. It’s been an absolute pleasure to represent you all and an honour I’ll sorely miss.
“As one chapter finishes, another begins, which I’ll enter with the same level of passion and determination as the last.”
The Whitchurch High School product played junior rugby for Rhiwbina RFC and then Glamorgan Wanderers RFC, also representing Wales at all age-grades, captaining the U18, U19 and U20 sides.
He has spent his entire professional career with Cardiff Blues, making his debut for his hometown region in April 2009.
Just two months later he made his international debut against the USA in Chicago and in February 2010 made his Six Nations debut at the Millennium Stadium – a 31-24 victory over Scotland.
Warburton made three Six Nations appearances that season and has played in every Championship since, scoring three tries in that time and starting all five matches wearing the No.6 shirt in 2016-17.
Warburton won the European Challenge Cup with the Blues in 2010 and at age 22 was named Wales captain for the first time in June 2011 when Wales faced the Barbarians.
The Cardiff-born back-row will go down in history as the most successful British & Irish Lions captains of all time and last year became only the second man to captain the Lions on two tours.
Warren Gatland, who handed Warburton the Wales and British & Irish Lions captaincies, commented on www.wru.co.uk: “It is hugely disappointing that Sam has retired from the game. He is an outstanding rugby player and he has brought so much to the game on and off the pitch.
“His leadership, attitude and demeanour along with his performances have placed Sam up there as one of the best and most respected players in the world. He finishes with a record that he should be extremely proud of and should look back on his career with huge pride.
“In a test career full of great moments, one in particular sticks in my mind. His captaincy in the third Test for the Lions in New Zealand, in a game finely balanced and potentially historic, was exemplary. The New Zealand media were mightily impressed by him, and rightly so.
“I hope he can take the time to reflect on a magnificent career and I hope he gets as much pleasure from whatever he does next as he has brought to the people of Wales and the wider rugby public.”