Cardiff Blues, Wales and British & Irish Lion flanker Sam Warburton, OBE, 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 has today 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 C.V. that includes leading Wales to Grand Slam and Six Nations glory as well as to 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 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.”
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 an 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.
The Whitchurch High School product played junior rugby for Rhiwbina RFC and then Glamorgan Wanderers RFC. He then represented Wales at all age-grades, captaining the U18, U19 and U20 sides.
Aged just 22, he was named Wales captain for the first time in June 2011 when Wales faced the Barbarians and he then led Wales into the Rugby World Cup later that year.
Warburton’s final match was the Lions’ test draw against the All Blacks in June 2017. Following the series in New Zealand, Warburton underwent neck surgery on an ongoing injury followed by proactive knee surgery earlier this year. Since trying to return to full fitness Warburton has been unable to reach the heights he desires and has made the decision to retire.
Warren 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.
“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.”
Martyn Phillips, WRU Chief Executive said: “Sam has left the jersey in a better place which is the goal I know most, if not all, Welsh players set themselves. The way that Sam has conducted himself as Wales and Lions captain, on and off the pitch, has been exemplary.
“Even the manner in which he has made this extraordinarily tough decision demonstrates the quality of leader he has become. Sam has had a remarkable influence on the pitch for Wales and I suspect will have a remarkable influence off the pitch for many years to come.”
John Mulvihill, Head Coach of the Cardiff Blues, said: “I met with Sam and he informed me of his decision and his reasons behind it. He is a world-class player and person and was more concerned about letting myself and the Cardiff Blues family down rather than his immediate future.
“As a player, person and role model in rugby he has nothing else to prove. His class and achievements will stand the test of time. He is a Welsh rugby and Cardiff Blues legend and we all wish him and his young family much love, health and happiness in the future.”
Richard Holland, Chief Executive Officer of the Cardiff Blues said: “We are obviously disappointed to lose a player of Sam’s calibre but we entirely understand and respect his decision.
“Sam was desperate to get back onto the pitch and to give back to Cardiff Blues but he has contributed an immense amount to the entire organisation during the 10 years he has been here.
“He has remained a one-club man, which is testament to his character both as a player and a man, and will always be part of our family at Cardiff Arms Park. I look forward to meeting Sam in the coming weeks to discuss how he can remain part of the organisation moving forward.
“We could not be prouder of Sam’s achievements both at Cardiff Blues where he has made more than 100 appearances and on the international stage with Wales and the Lions, where he has continued a long and rich tradition.
“He is a true great of the game and we wish him all the very best for life after rugby.”