You always want to go out on your own terms.
Whether it’s rugby or any other career, choosing how you call it a day is a luxury not afforded to everyone.
Several Welsh rugby stars have been forced to hang up their boots the wrong side of their 30th birthday, with the Ospreys and Wales back-row James King the latest to do so.
This is what several of those forced out of the game chose to do next.
Went from bricklayer and part-time rugby player to Wales rugby international in a matter of months and played at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
But as quickly as it took off, his career was over, because of damage to an artery in his neck – with Burns now back working as a builder in the Cwmbran and Pontypool area.
“I spent a year changing nappies and making bottles for the baby and did a little bit of coaching with Greg Woods, Gwent’s regional rugby manager, and at Pontypool Schools.
“I enjoyed it but there comes a point when you have to put your family first and put food on the table so I went back to building work as a bricklayer.”
The former Wales and Lions captain announced his shock retirement in the summer of 2018.
Warburton was forced to admit his tiring body could no longer cope with the rigours of professional rugby as he hung up his boots at the age of 29.
He underwent neck and then knee surgery in an attempt to return to full fitness, but upon returning to pre-season training with Cardiff Blues, the back-row forward decided he would not be able to return to his best form.
“My body is unable to give me back what I had hoped for on my return to training. I cannot thank the Welsh Rugby Union and Cardiff Blues enough,” said Warburton.
“They have gone beyond the call of duty in providing the support I received to help me get back on the field.”
Since retiring, Warburton has done plenty of television work as a pundit, published an autobiography and was briefly a part of Wayne Pivac’s coaching ticket with Wales as a breakdown technical adviser – leaving the post after just one campaign.
He will be the lead pundit on the BBC’s Six Nations coverage this year.
The elusive Ospreys winger was tipped for Wales honours, but injuries always kept him from fulfilling his potential.
He did manage to pull on the red jersey just the one time – making his only Wales appearance in a World Cup warm-up match against Ireland in Cardiff in 2015.
However, at the age of 25, he was forced to admit defeat in his battle with injuries, after failing to recover from back surgery.
Since retiring, Walker had a foray into boxing – which you can read about in this interview which also charts his new business venture post-rugby. He’s also picked up a master’s degree from Cardiff Met University and launched his own construction company.
Scarlets back-rower Condy was forced to hang up his boots aged just 23.
He had been battling a chronic knee injury in his final few seasons in rugby, before receiving medical advice that it was better to step away from the game.
At the time, the Penallta product said: “Following consultations and thorough medical advice it is with great sadness that I have to accept that I will play no further part on the field and will be retiring from rugby at the end of the season.
“It has become clear over the past 12 months that it is not possible to continue to play at a professional level after sustaining such a significant knee injury years ago.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Scarlets and I’d like to thank the players for being so supportive over the last few years and wish you the best with your careers.”
He’s now working as a self-employed electrician.
Former Dragons centre Hughes was forced to retire from a brain injury at the age of 28 in 2018.
Now 30, Hughes is the youngest to join impending legal action taken by a group of nine former players against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union for alleged negligence.
Each of the nine players involved are under the age of 45 and have been diagnosed with – or in Hughes’ case, assessed to be on the trajectory towards diagnosis of – traumatic brain injury, early onset dementia and probable CTE.
Having had to give up his hobby of flying planes because of the brain injuries from playing rugby, Hughes currently works as a financial advisor.
The Ospreys back retired in January 2019 at the age of 27, having taken a year out of the game after a number of head injuries.
His last appearance on a rugby pitch was a Boxing Day encounter with the Scarlets, his third brain injury that year.
Following his year out of the game, he was forced to make the call after it became clear he couldn’t return to the sport he loved.
Since retiring, John has focused on his career as a personal trainer – while he has also been involved in setting up 9Twelve Academy, an online rugby academy alongside former Ospreys team-mates Rhys Webb and Ashley Beck.
You can read about his new career outside of rugby in this candid interview he did last year.
Having been forced to retire at the age of 23 in 2016 through a neck injury, Robinson went on to set up his own practice – Harry Robinson Wealth Management – dealing with mortgages, protection, pensions and investments, in conjunction with St James’ Place.
“I had always been interested in property and how mortgage rates and interest rates work,” explained the three-cap Wales international.
“So I knew the path I wanted to go down, but I didn’t realise it would happen so quickly.”
A freak incident while playing for Cardiff Blues in the World Club Tens in Singapore left him paralysed from the chest down and wheelchair-bound.
Williams, who won four caps for Wales, has decided to try help others in a similar situation.
The Stay Strong for Ows foundation was set up after his injury in June 2014 and the former Blues centre has been involved with the fund-raising.
Speaking about the foundation, Williams said: “It’s just about helping out, even like little things, giving support through difficult times, whether it’s a donation or getting some equipment for them, just to get that bit of independence, like I’ve been through it.”
In 2020, Williams revealed he was to become a dad – six years after his injury.
The Ospreys flanker was forced into early retirement after a neck injury against Aironi in September 2010.
Having attempted to make a return to rugby, he eventually had to give up on his dreams in March 2011, aged just 24.
Lewis, brother of Worcester back-rower Sam Lewis, now works as a Health Support Officer with BlueBay Medical Systems in Swansea.
The talented Cardiff Blues full-back was forced to retire at the age of 22 in March 2020.
Williams sustained left sided peripheral nerve damage as he made a try-rescuing tackle against Zebre in February 2018.
The former U20s Grand Slam winner, who was called up to the Wales senior squad in 2017, was advised to hang up his boots after two years of extensive rehabilitation.
He said: “I’m obviously really disappointed to be given the news that I will be unable to return to rugby.
“I have done everything I can to get back, but unfortunately that’s the specialist’s advice at this time.
“I’m very grateful for all the support I have had from everyone at Cardiff Blues during the last two years, but particularly the physios and medical department, Phil Davies from the WRPA and my teammates who have been superb.”
The former Newport Gwent Dragons captain was forced to pack in rugby in 2015 following multiple concussions.
The region’s player of the year in 2010, who won Wales honours at Under 16, 18, 19 and 20 level, admitted he had no plans after rugby, saying: “Looking forward I am not sure what the future holds for me or even what I want to do, but I am planning on taking some time to reflect on my opportunities, wherever that may be.”
However, he has since figured out what he wants to do – working in Sales for Estuary Oils, a fuels and lubricants distributor for nearly five years.
Forced to retire through concussion in 2016, former Dragons winger Pewtner is now teaching in Dubai – after starring on the TV show, Don’t Tell the Bride.
As well as teaching in Dubai, he also coaches the Dubai Hurricanes – having been handed the role of Director of Rugby last year after three years as attack coach.
Speaking about his move, he said: “I just thought I needed to do something like that to get away from things for a few years and find my feet doing something different. I’ve thrown myself into that and hopefully I’ll be able to recapture the excitement I got when I was playing.
“I’m always keeping my eyes open for things that will keep me motivated because if I stop and look back, it’ll get me down.
“And with my injury, I think it affects me even more because my emotions are all over the place. So I try not to dwell on it too much and just look forward and set myself challenges in the future.”
Having been another player whose career became the victim of concussion in 2015, Watts-Jones kept himself busy by helping his father out with a renovation project.
The former Cardiff Blues flanker has also been taking his coaching badges, helping out with the Blues under-18s.
Looking ahead to his older years, he said: “Will I be sitting there in my rocking chair thinking, ‘Damn I wish I had carried on’? I hope not but I don’t think I will because I have gone with the best advice available with my family and girlfriend’s backing.”
The back-three flyer was robbed of a Test career after breaking his leg in a World Cup warm-up against England in 2011 just as he was beginning to establish himself within Warren Gatland’s squad, hanging up his boots just under two years later after failing to recover.
Since retiring, he has done some coaching with the Dragons U18s side and Cross Keys, while the former Scarlets man also had a testicular cancer scare but is thankfully now healthy again.
Last year, he spoke candidly about his leg break and cancer scare which you can read here.
The prop had a heart attack in 2012 during training with the Scarlets and is once again back on the transplant list.
Thomas never got a pay-out from Pro Rugby Wales’ (formerly Regional Rugby Wales) insurers and is unable to return to work due to his heart problems.
Last year, he candidly admitted to years of drug-taking while he was playing rugby for Wales as he now bids to get back on track following his battles with addiction. You can read the brutally honest interview here.
The Cardiff Blues winger was forced to call it quits after a pelvis injury against Treviso in 2012.
The 39-year-old is now a funeral director with Porthcawl Funeral Services – having been combining the roles during his playing career.
Speaking about his post-rugby career, Mustoe said: “So as far as a career after rugby it was always my intention to continue as an undertaker full time, just maybe not as early as this.”
You can read the full story of how Mustoe sought the very different post-rugby career path here.
Speak to any former team-mate of Bishop and you’d see how highly the Ospreys centre is viewed.
Forced to retire at the age of 30 after three separate surgeries on a lumbar disc problem, Bishop joined his former region Ospreys as an age-grade coach, working as skills coach. He is seen as a talented emerging coach with a bright future.
He also took a coaching role with Treorchy RFC alongside Wales and Ospreys teammate Ian Evans back in 2016
“It’s a privilege to come back and coach at my home-town club,” explained Bishop at the time. “I’ve been around for a couple of seasons now, coaching the youth boys and helping out occasionally with the firsts.
“But when the club asked if I would be interested in taking the job on full-time, I was proud to say yes.”
The 1,000th player to be capped by Wales, he was part of history by co-captaining the Grand Slam winning team of 2005, along with Gareth Thomas.
After winning 41 caps for his country, he was forced to retire at just 29 in July 2010 due to a knee injury.
After spending a year as a trainee PE teacher at Sandringham School, he now teaches and coaches rugby at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk