Former England captain Dylan Hartley has retired from professional rugby because of a long-standing knee injury which has prevented the 33-year-old from playing since December.
“The last few months have been difficult for me both mentally and physically as I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am no longer able to compete,” the Northampton hooker said.
He retires as England’s second most capped player, having played in 97 Tests.
He was made captain in 2016 by coach Eddie Jones, and led England to their first Six Nations Grand Slam in 13 years, a successful defence of the trophy in 2017 and series sweeps in Australia and Argentina. At the time of his injury, he was co-captain of England but the reserve hooker went on to miss the World Cup, where England reached the final.
Hartley was born in New Zealand but left at 15 for England, for who he qualified through his English-born mother.
“I came to England as a teenager hoping to get a few games of rugby and to see the world,” he said. “I could have never predicted that one day I’d play 14 years for such a special club and go on to captain England.”
Suspensions curtailed his international career. He was dropped from the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia after receiving an 11-week suspension for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final. Hartley never played for the Lions: his understudy Jamie George was preferred for the 2017 tour to New Zealand. He was ruled out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup after a four-week ban for headbutting George in a Premiership semi-final match.
Hartley racked up 60 weeks’ worth of bans, including 26 weeks in 2007 for eye gouging James Haskell and John O’Connor, and eight weeks in 2012 for biting the finger of Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris. There were other bans for elbowing, punching and a swinging arm.
“My career wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Hartley said.