Sam Warburton announces retirement at 29
Former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton has been forced to retire at the age of 29. The flanker will go down as one of the best Wales and Lions Captains in history with a record 49 caps as Wales Captain and 2 Lions Tours as Captain, unfortunately, as we are seeing more and more regularly, injuries have taken there toll leading to his early retirement.
Warburton's injury list is almost as impressive as his list of accolades. Hamstring, Shoulder, Ankle, Knee, Jaw, Fingers and Concussion to name a few. In the last year he had neck and knee surgery which prompted his sabbatical over the past 12 months followed by early retirement this week when his recovery did not go to plan.
He was named Wales captain at just 22 making him the second youngest Wales captain of all time and only a year after he had turned professional.
Infamously Warburton received a red card for a tip tackle in the World Cup 2011 Semi Final against France after 18 minutes. Wales went on to lose the game 9-8 and it leaves the question of what might have been.
In a Lions Shirt, Warburton led the team on 2 tours. First, Australia in 2013 where Warburton became the youngest ever captain at the age of 24. The Lions went on to win the Series 2-1 but Warburton was ruled out of the 3rd and deciding test due to injury. Sadly, this epitomised Warburton's career.
In his second tour as captain the Lions drew a famous test series in New Zealand in 2017 1-1 with an incredible final test draw in Auckland that will go down as one of the greatest Lions games of all time.
This news opens up discussions again about the prevalence of injury in Rugby as we see another high profile player announcing early retirement. As someone who had to stop playing at 28, I have some experience of having to retire through injury (not comparing myself to Sam Warburton!). There are measures being introduced to manage the risk in the game but we also need to understand that risk of injury is unfortunately part of the game (as it is with any contact sport). Rugby is a brutally beautiful sport and the physicality is what attracts player and spectators alike. Risk can be managed but let's not sterilise our game.
7s is coming home.....(nearly)
This weekend was the World Cup Sevens in San Francisco. New Zealand became the first team to retain the trophy after success in Moscow in 2014. The final was a repeat of the final in Russia with New Zealand beating England 33-12.
England won their quarter final 24-19 in thrilling style against the home team after the game went into extra time. They followed that with a fantastic victory against the Blitzbokke in the semi final.
New Zealand defeated favourites Fiji in the semi final and completed the double after they also won the Women's tournament. It was in fact a double-double as the Black Ferns also retained their title from 2014.
The new tournament structure has been criticised by some commentators as they moved away from a group stage into a straight knock out. There were early, big name casualties in both tournaments as Australia went out of the men's tournament and England lost to Ireland in a surprise 1st round knock out in the women's event.
It might seem ruthless for the players but it means every game counts and makes it a great spectacle. Especially in front of the sell out American crowd in San Francisco, it is great to see how Sevens rugby is continuing to innovate and try new things. As a spectator the straight knock out format was a great addition.
As much as I enjoyed the tournament I wonder if anyone else did. The games were not televised live in the UK (highlights were shown on ITV4). They were available to all on the World Rugby website and YouTube but I wonder how many casual fans are tuning in online? On this mornings BBC TV news coverage there was no mention of the World Cup Sevens despite England making the final. They did however show highlights from the Lumberjack World Championships. Seven's is a great gateway into Rugby and an amazing spectacle. AT&T Park is an awesome stadium (I have been to a couple of baseball games there in the past) and looked great in the coverage, the quality of the rugby was amazing and the knock out format added drama to every game. What a shame people in the UK did not have access to it! I feel it could have been an opportunity missed.
Eagles or Hawks?
Seeing as it is off season for 15 a side rugby, I was able to make the trip on Saturday to watch Essex Eagles v Hampshire Hawks in the T20 Blast. The game ended as a dramatic tie. Bopara was run out on the last ball attempting to get the winning run.
Like 7's Rugby the T20 is a great entry point into the game. It was a fantastic event at the County Ground in Chelmsford both on the pitch and off it. Club Rugby could certainly learn something from T20 when it comes to promoting the game to new audiences.
So to the age old question of who would win in a fight between an Eagle and a Hawk? The answer is neither.