Sam Warburton has announced his retirement from rugby at the age of just 29.
The Wales international has not played since the Lions drew with the All Blacks in their final test last summer. Following the tour, he underwent neck and knee surgery.
In a statement released via his club, Cardiff Blues, Warburton 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 hoped for on my return to training."
After making his international debut in 2009, Warburton won 74 caps for Wales. He captained his country on 49 occasions, the first being as a 22-year-old in 2011.
In addition, he also won five caps for the Lions. He became just the second player to captain the Lions on two tours when he led them in New Zealand last year. He was also captain five years ago in Australia.
Warburton spent his entire professional career with the Cardiff Blues after making his debut in 2009.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) July 18, 2018
Wales head coach Warren Gatland said the final game of Warburton's career was his standout moment.
"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."
Sam Warburton statement
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 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.
Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE