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Wales record-breaker Ken Owens announces retirement from rugby

Wales record-breaker Ken Owens announces retirement from rugby
© Reuters
Ken Owens, Wales' oldest-ever captain and most-capped hooker, announces his retirement from rugby at the age of 37 due to a back injury.

Ken Owens, Wales' oldest men's rugby union captain of all time and their highest-capped hooker, has announced his retirement from the sport at the age of 37.

During a career spanning almost 18 years, Owens was capped on 91 occasions by his country, scoring six tries and winning four Six Nations crowns, two of which also saw him clinch a Grand Slam.

Owens was also named in two British & Irish Lions squads for their 2017 and 2021 tours, notching one try in the latter year against South Africa, before becoming their oldest-ever captain at the 2023 Six Nations.

The 37-year-old managed to recover from a troublesome back injury in time for last year's Championships, and he registered his final try for Wales against Scotland later in the tournament.

Fitness issues have continued to plague Owens, though, and his last appearance for club team Scarlets - whom he stayed loyal to for his entire career - came in a Challenge Cup semi-finals loss to Glasgow last April.

Owens "reluctantly" retiring on medical advice

With his back problem still giving him grief, Owens was not involved in either the 2023 World Cup or 2024 Six Nations, and the hooker has now confirmed that he has begrudgingly called it quits due to his physical woes.

"Reluctantly, I am announcing my retirement from rugby. Not playing has been challenging but the time is right to follow medical advice and hang up my boots," Owens told the official Wales website.

"Had I written the script there would have been one more game for Wales, for the Scarlets and ultimately Carmarthen Athletic. A chance to sign off and thank everyone involved. It was not to be. It might not be the dream ending but my career has been more than I could have dreamt of.

"Whilst part of me wishes I could have done more, I am well aware that if you had told me as a kid I would be fortunate enough to experience what I have, to have worked with and played with the people I have and taken the pleasure I have from this amazing game, I wouldn't have believed you."

Warren Gatland pays tribute to "outstanding" Owens

Wales' Ken Owens and head coach Warren Gatland pose with the Six Nations trophy during the launch on January 23, 2023© Reuters

Wales head coach Warren Gatland also offered his own moving tribute to Owens, claiming that making him captain for last year's Six Nations was a "very easy" decision and hailing the hooker as a "brilliant ambassador" for the game.

"Ken has had an incredible rugby career and been a brilliant ambassador for the game in Wales. I've enjoyed being able to coach him with Wales and the Lions," Gatland added.

"Ken is an incredibly passionate Welshman. I know it meant a lot to him to play for Wales and you could see that every single time he wore the red jersey. He was also very proud to represent Carmarthen Athletic and the Scarlets. Throughout his career Ken has been a dedicated professional and a great leader, always helping drive standards but also very popular with his teammates.

"He has been absolutely outstanding for Wales over the years and it was a very easy decision to name him as captain for the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, which turned out to be his final international campaign. Ken, his wife Carys, his family and friends can be immensely proud of all he has achieved. Diolch yn fawr iawn am bopeth Ken. All the best for the next chapter."

As well as earning 91 caps for Wales, Owens totalled 274 appearances for Scarlets, whom he captained for a record-breaking seven consecutive years, and he was named in the United Rugby Championship Team of the Year in 2016-17 and 2018-19.

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