Iconic Ireland and Munster rugby stalwart Paul O’Connell has been forced to retire from the professional game due to injury.
The 36-year-old has hung up his boots on the back of medical advice following a horrendous hamstring injury which prematurely ended his World Cup campaign.
The injury, which O’Connell sustained in Ireland’s victory over France in October, means the Limerick’s man contract with Toulon has been cancelled without O’Connell playing a game for the Top 14 side.
The lock, who made his debut for the country in 2002, took over as Ireland captain from Jamie Heaslip in 2013.
He won three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam, during his time with the national team in which he won 108 caps.
O’Connell said in a statement: “It is with deep regret that I have decided to retire from professional rugby following medical advice. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all at Rugby Club Toulonnais for their understanding and support over the past few months.
“Since sustaining the injury at the World Cup I have been fully focused on returning to fitness and starting an exciting new chapter for both myself and my family in Toulon. Unfortunately this will no longer be possible.
“I have been blessed to be a professional rugby player for over 14 years and to be part of Munster and Ireland teams that have experienced success.
“I have played with some of the best players to ever line out in the red of Munster and the green of Ireland and have had the privilege of captaining my country.
“Special thanks must go to my wife Emily for her unwavering support through the good and the bad and to my parents Michael and Shelagh.
“Lastly I would like to thank everyone who has supported the teams I have been a part of. The support you have shown me is humbling and an immense source of pride for both myself and my family.”
Tributes have poured in on Twitter for the former Ireland captain:
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 9, 2016
Really disappointing to see @Paul_OConnell having to retire. Sensational career in Red & Green. Simply irreplaceable.
— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) February 9, 2016
Wishing @Paul_OConnell every success in retirement, an amazing leader & inspiration to a generation of future rugby players.
— Gordon D'Arcy (@Gordonwdarcy) February 9, 2016
Sad to see @Paul_OConnell retire, but what a legend on and off the field. Pleasure to share the same field with and against him.
— gethin jenkins (@gethinjenkins1) February 9, 2016