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The inside story of the week that ended Sam Warburton's rugby career

Wales Online logo Wales Online 19/07/2018 Andy Howell

Just a few weeks ago, Sam Warburton's plan was clear.

He'd just watched his old adversary David Pockock return from an 18-month sabbatical to produce a stunning display for Australia against Ireland in his first match back.

In the weeks and months to come, this would be him. Reinvigorated, his battered body finally given time to heal, Warburton hoped he could be better than ever before.

a man talking on a cell phone: Sam Warburton has retired © Credits: Walesonline Sam Warburton has retired Publicly, the signs were positive. Warburton had actually been training in various forms for the past six weeks, taking part in early pre-season sessions with the WRU and attending fitness tests with Cardiff Blues just a week after their final match of the season.

He had spent the whole of last week in full Blues training and, on the outside at least, things were looking good.

Warburton knew different though.

Throughout the enforced absence of the past year he had prayed his body would no longer cause him the suffering of the past.

His catalogue of injuries are well documented by now (you can read the full brutal list here ), but it was the nerve problems caused by neck injuries that had perhaps troubled him most since 2012. He would experience intense pain in his left arm that could last for several minutes at a time, caused by blows to the neck making a disc pinch the nerve that supplies the arm. There was also the burning pain in his actual neck that he knew simply wasn't right.

Sam Warburton of British and Irish Lions © Getty Sam Warburton of British and Irish Lions In his own words, he had lost the confidence to take contact. He didn't want to tackle anymore. When you read his harrowing account of what he's been through here , you wonder how he carried on as long as he did.

This, along with a knee ligament hanging by a thread, was what he hoped had finally been sorted in the operating theatre during the past year when he disappeared into the rugby shadows.

But, last week, the nagging doubt things still weren't right became a reality. The pain was still there after training, the body couldn't always do what he wanted it to and, mentally, he came to realise he just wasn't up for putting himself through this anymore.

It's understood a defining moment came at his home last week when he reached up to hang a picture on a wall and felt that searing pain in his neck once again.

a man holding a football ball © Credits: AFP It's believed he turned to his ever-supportive wife Rachel and said he was done, he was retiring with immediate effect and that he'd had enough of the almost constant pain he had to deal with while training and playing.

Now to break the news to those closest to him.

On Monday night, Warburton picked up his mobile telephone, searched for Warren Gatland's number, and pressed dial. There followed a lengthy conversation with the man who had given him the Wales captaincy at the age of 22.

Warburton explained how he was feeling and what he was planning to do. Unsurprisingly, he received nothing but total support from his mentor and friend.

The following day, Warburton contacted new Cardiff Blues coach John Mulvihill to deliver the news and attended meetings with WRU officials in Cardiff.

2017 British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has retired from all forms of rugby at the age of 29: Former British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has retired from all forms of rugby at the age of 29 (David Davies/PA) © Provided by The Press Association Former British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has retired from all forms of rugby at the age of 29 (David Davies/PA) A plan was put in place between the WRU and Blues on Tuesday evening to break the news the following day. Such was the magnitude of the story, everyone wanted to do it right and they wanted to do it quickly before things started to leak out, as they inevitably do in Welsh rugby's goldfish bowl.

Late on Wednesday morning, those in the Welsh media were informed significant news was coming. As the story broke shortly before Noon, Warburton himself was arriving in Italy for a wedding.

He is probably happy to be away from the limelight at this moment as the most significant chapter of his life comes to an end, but those close to him say he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. He is not the type for regrets and his family comes before anything else in his life.

Wales star Sam Warburton is recovering well following neck surgery six weeks ago: Sam Warburton File Photo © PA WIRE Sam Warburton File Photo Warburton feels he has given his comeback attempt his best shot and refuses to risk anything that would jeopardise his health further.

He wants to be able to pick up his young daughter and not feel pain.

Today's decision was a huge one, but a sensible one. There won't be anyone out there who doesn't wish him all the best.


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