1876 Cardiff Rugby
Warby - A Massive Thank You
By Craig Muncey
July 18 2018

The sad news broke today that Sam Warburton will be retiring from rugby with immediate effect at the age of 29. This piece looks at the player and his place among Welsh rugby heroes.

So after 176 games for Cardiff Blues, 74 caps for Wales, with 49 as captain and 5 Lions tests, which he finishes undefeated as a Lions test captain, Sam Warburton has been forced to retire due to injury.

Warburton has been a fabulous rugby player, as a flanker at his very best, he was in my view the best in Europe.  Indeed one of the best in the world, and when you think during his time of playing you had the likes of McCaw, Pocock, Hooper, Dusatoir and others that is high praise indeed.

Defensively, he was outstanding, strong in the tackle, but his biggest strength was his work at the breakdown if he could not gain the turnover, often he would slow opposition ball down to allow the defensive line to regroup. He was also a strong lineout forward and a good ball carrier. The back row trio that we had with him, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau were an outstanding trio, they complimented each other so well, and again at their best, a match for any back row in world rugby at that time.

He made his debut for Cardiff Blues in 2009 and immediately you could see from the terraces we had a special talent on our hands. That same summer he made his international debut against the USA, and just two years later was captaining Wales aged just 22. The 2011 World Cup was a great tournament for Wales but ended in such disappointment with the infamous red card that Warby suffered following a tackle on Vincent Clerc in the semi-final of that tournament.

In terms of being a Lion, Warburton retires undefeated as a Test captain, a fantastic achievement when you take into account the two tours he was captain was against Australia and in particular, New Zealand. As a captain, he was hugely respected, the way he conducted himself on and off the field, the way he communicated with referees, in today's game a huge advantage to have.

If I had to pick out three individual performances from Warburton then they would be the 2013 second test against Australia for the Lions (which I believe was his greatest performance), 2013 game for Wales against England, and the 2012 game for Wales also against England. Even just last summer, when clearly not fit for the Lions his performance in the two tests against New Zealand were excellent, a constant thorn in the breakdown and leading by example.

So the question is where does he now go after finishing playing? Well, his performances giving analysis in a TV studio has earned him deserved praise, so I am sure will not be short of offers in that capacity. Richard Holland has also stated Cardiff Blues are hoping to keep him involved in the region in some position yet to be decided. Whatever he decides, I fully expect him to be a success.

His final playing act on a rugby field was speaking to Roman Poite after the French referee had already given a penalty against Ken Owens in the third test of the Lions versus New Zealand. A penalty which if successful which was highly likely where the penalty was awarded, would have given New Zealand the win and the series. Warburton calmly in the heat of the moment asked Poite to check for accidental offside, which Poite duly obliged. The manner in which Warburton asked, the fact he had not been in the referee's ear every ten minutes, and the credibility he has earned all those years all worked in his and the Lions favour, the decision was overturned, the game and the series was drawn.

Sam Warburton, a great rugby player, a great leader of men, and a player who has been respected the world over. Warby, thank you.