The end was swift and brutal for Sam Warburton, as it so often is in professional sport. Rugby is a strange career in that it holds the dubious distinction of being able to rob men of their livelihoods overnight.
Not long after Munster's Felix Jones retired due to a neck injury, he sat down for interview with 98FM - the sudden stop to his life was hard to process, he admitted. His daily routine was shattered in an instant, and it wasn't just his professional life that was turned upside down. He went from having a purpose in life, with goals and ambitions and plans and then the next minute the doctor took it all away: 'Sorry, you won't be playing again'.
Sam Warburton is in the throes of experiencing what many men have before him, and what many will encounter in the future. Very few are given the good grace to bow out on their own terms. Riding off into the sunset, head held high, happy with their lot in life - it doesn't play out that way in real life.
Too often in a game that seemed to have reached peak physicality a decade ago, only to become more intense, the body just breaks down. Warburton's reason for calling it quits is no more complicated than that. A knee operation put paid to his hopes of playing in the 2018 Six Nations. Neck issues before that wrecked his hopes of making a meaningful contribution to Cardiff Blues Pro 14 campaign.
— Welsh Rugby Union ðŸ‰ (@WelshRugbyUnion) July 18, 2018
Warburton reported back for pre-season training but found the body was unresponsive to the demands of the modern game. He wasn't physically up to being the rugby player he was before taking a year out to nurse those injuries:
“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."
Warburton leaves behind a career most players could only dream of, he represented his country 74 times, he played in 5 tests for the British & Irish Lions. He became only the second man to lead them for two tours during the most recent visit to New Zealand. Warburton captained his country for a record 49 times. It was a good career, however bad the end to it is. The nagging feeling in his gut no doubt lingered there for awhile, after months of inactivity Warburton likely knew the end was near.
It wouldn't have made it any easier, this morning he woke up a professional rugby player, tonight he will go to bed knowing that life is over. The training, the conditioning, the gym, the diet. The professional obligations that have controlled many aspects of his life and given him a routine in life for over a decade are now gone. The hard luck pat on the back, the congrats on your career, all those platitudes will offer little conciliation for a man who now needs to start a new life at 29.