Cardiff Blues, Wales and British & Irish Lion flanker Sam Warburton has called time on his illustrious rugby career.
Capped 74 times by Wales and a further five by the British & Irish Lions, Warburton led his country for a record 49 times. He on Wednesday announced his retirement from professional rugby.
Classed as one of rugby's modern greats, the 29 year old's final match was 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 in earnest this summer.
Since returning to pre-season with Cardiff Blues it has become 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.
He bows out with a glittering CV that includes leading Wales to Grand Slam and Six Nations glory as well as at two Rugby World Cups.
"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 hoped 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 & 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."
Warburton will go down in history as the most successful British & Irish Lions captains of all time. Last year he became only the second man to captain the Lions on two tours as he led the famous touring team to New Zealand, repeating the honour he first undertook in 2013 in Australia. Under his leadership the Lions claimed a first Test series victory in 16 years when the beat Australia and four years later in 2017 he once again led the Lions as they earned a historic series draw against World Champions New Zealand.
He has spent his entire professional career with Cardiff Blues, making his debut for his hometown region in April 2009. Just two months later, in June 2009 he made his international debut against the USA in Chicago and in 2010 he was part of the Blues side that won the European Challenge Cup.
Gatland who handed Warburton the Wales and British & Irish Lions captaincy said: "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 demeanor 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."