Cardiff Blues, Wales and British and Irish Lions flanker Sam Warburton has shocked the rugby world by announcing his retirement from rugby union at the age of 29.
After a year spent out of the game due to two major surgeries, Warburton has decided his body is not capable of taking him back to the top level he was playing at before, and will bow out as one of the greats of the modern game.
Throughout his career Warburton was a record breaker and record setter, as one of the youngest Wales captains at 22, the youngest captain at a Rugby World Cup, a two-time Lions captain and the most successful captain of the touring side of all time.
After playing for Rhiwbina RFC and attending Whitchurch High School in his younger days, Sam graduated through the Cardiff Blues and Wales age-grade sides before appearing for Glamorgan Wanderers on his way through the development pathway system.
He made his debut for his hometown club on 3rd April 2009 against Edinburgh in the then Magners League, and just two months later was pulling on the red of Wales for the first time on the summer tour of the USA.
106 Cardiff Blues appearances and 74 tests for Wales would follow, but it was under the badge of the British and Irish Lions that Warburton would cement himself in rugby history when he was named the youngest ever Lions captain on the 2013 tour to Australia.
Despite going off injured in the second test, he would become the first winning Lions tour captain since 1997, and then would be only the second man to captain the side on two tours when he led them into a drawn series against New Zealand last summer.
After that third test in Auckland Warburton underwent neck and knee surgeries in a bid to get his body right after a few years of managing injuries, but despite returning to pre-season with Cardiff Blues this summer it was not to be for the flanker, who now bows out of the game.
Speaking to the official club website, he said, “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.
“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.”