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Lions captain Sam Warburton announces surprise retirement from rugby at 29

It’s a major blow for Wales head coach Warren Gatland ahead of next year’s World Cup in Japan.

Image: David Davies

SAM WARBURTON, WHO captained the British and Irish Lions on their last two tours, has announced his immediate retirement from the game at the age of 29.

Warburton won 79 Test caps during his career and skippered the Lions t0 a 1-1 draw in the 2017 series with New Zealand, but hasn’t played since.

The former Wales captain missed last season with knee and neck injuries and returned to training with Cardiff Blues earlier this summer.

In a statement confirmed Warburton’s decision, the Welsh Rugby Union said it had “become clear to Warburton that he wouldn’t be able to return to the high standards he has set throughout his career”.

Warburton, who bows out with a glittering CV that includes Grand Slam and Six Nations titles with Wales, 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.

“My body is unable to give me back what I had hoped for on my return to training.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland expressed his disappointment at the news.

“It is hugely disappointing that Sam has retired from the game,” he said “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.”

Warburton, who first captained Wales at 22, went on to thank those who helped him during his career.

He said: “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.

New Zealand v British and Irish Lions - Third Test - Eden Park Source: David Davies

“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.”

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