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Sam Warburton to retire from rugby

Credit: PA Images

Sam Warburton has retired from rugby union at the age of 29, a joint statement from the Welsh Rugby Union and Cardiff Blues has announced.

The former Wales skipper, who captained the British and Irish Lions on tours to Australia in 2013 and New Zealand last summer, underwent neck and knee surgery last year and has not played for 12 months.

Capped 74 times by Wales and a further five by the British & Irish Lions, Warburton led his country for a record 49 times.

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Since returning to pre-season with Cardiff Blues it become clear to Warburton 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.

The announcement was made jointly by the Welsh Rugby Union and Warburton's regional team Cardiff Blues.

Wales' Sam Warburton makes a try-saving tackle on England's Chris Robshaw during the RBS Six Nations match in 2014 Credit: PA Images

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.

– Sam Warburton
Sam Warburton (top right) attended Whitchurch High school with Gareth Bale (second from top right)

Warburton will go down in history as the most successful British & Irish Lions captains of all time.

He bows out with a glittering CV that includes leading Wales to Grand Slam and Six Nations glory as well as to two Rugby World Cups.

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.

Warburton lead Wales to Six Nations and World Cup glory. Credit: PA

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He has spent his entire professional career with Cardiff Blues, making his debut for his hometown region in April 2009.

John Mulvihill, Head Coach of the Cardiff Blues said Warburton has 'nothing else to prove' in rugby.

He said: ''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.''

Warren Gatland made Warburton captain in 2011. Credit: PA

Warren Gatland, who handed Warburton the Wales and British & Irish Lions captaincy, praised him as 'one of the best and respected players in the world'.

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 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.

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.

– Warren Gatland
He received an OBE from Prince William in March Credit: PA Images

Fans, players and colleagues tweeted their praise and thanks to Warburton as he called time on his illustrious career.

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Career highs

  • In 2013, Warburton became the first Welshman since Phil Bennett 36 years previously to be appointed British and Irish Lions tour captain.
  • He led his country to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand only a few months after being appointed captain - Wales' best achievement on rugby's global stage for 24 years
  • Captained Wales a record 49 times.
  • He broke Ryan Jones' record for most appearances as Wales captain when he led his country for a 34th time against 2015 6 Nations opponents Ireland in Cardiff.

Career lows

  • Warburton was controversially sent off in the first half of the World Cup semi-final in 2011 against France - they were knocked out after a 9-8 defeat.
  • Wales dropped out of the world's top eight after a last minute 14-12 defeat against Australia in 2011. Warburton's team were just 30 seconds from ending a long run of defeats.
  • Injuries plagued parts of his career, with neck and knee operations forcing him to bow out of the game at just aged 29.