Former Ireland captain O'Connell retires from rugby

Dublin (AFP) - Former Ireland and British and Irish Lions captain Paul O'Connell has been forced to retire with immediate effect due to injury, he announced on Tuesday.

"It is with deep regret that I have decided to retire from professional rugby following medical advice," O'Connell, 36, said in a statement published on the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) website.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank all at Rugby Club Toulonnais for their understanding and support over the past few months."

O'Connell, who won 108 caps for Ireland at lock and seven caps for the Lions, retired from international rugby late last year after a hamstring injury forced him out of the World Cup.

He had intended to see out his career with French Top 14 giants Toulon, having signed for them from Munster last year on a two-year deal.

But his injury has forced him to abandon those plans without having played a single game for them.

"Since sustaining the injury at the World Cup I have been fully focused on returning to fitness and starting an exciting new chapter for both myself and my family in Toulon. Unfortunately this will no longer be possible," he added.

"I have been blessed to be a professional rugby player for over 14 years and to be part of Munster and Ireland teams that have experienced success.

"I have played with some of the best players to ever line out in the red of Munster and the green of Ireland and have had the privilege of captaining my country.

"I would like to thank those at Young Munster RFC, Munster Rugby, the IRFU and Lions Rugby who have supported me over the course of my playing career."

- 'Simply irreplaceable' -

"His medical state has not improved recently," Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal confirmed to AFP.

Munster tweeted: "#ThanksPaulie for a magnificent and trailblazing career!"

The talismanic O'Connell was part of the triumphant Lions tour of Australia in 2013 and also toured New Zealand in 2005 and South Africa in 2009, on the latter occasion as captain.

He won three Six Nations titles with Ireland, including the Grand Slam in 2009, and two European Cups with Munster -- the only club he ever played for -- as well as the Celtic League three times.

His last appearance proved to be Ireland's 24-9 World Cup pool victory over France in Cardiff last October, which saw him leave the field on a stretcher after tearing his hamstring.

Ireland lost to Argentina in the quarter-finals, after which O'Connell announced his retirement from Test rugby. He is Ireland's third most-capped player, behind Brian O'Driscoll (133) and Ronan O'Gara (128).

O'Connell's former Ireland and Lions team-mate O'Driscoll wrote on Twitter: "Really disappointing to see @Paul_OConnell having to retire. Sensational career in Red and Green. Simply irreplaceable."

O'Connell also paid tribute to his family and supporters.

"Special thanks must go to my wife, Emily, for her unwavering support through the good and the bad and to my parents, Michael and Shelagh," he said.

"Lastly I would like to thank everyone who has supported the teams I have been a part of. The support you have shown me is humbling and an immense source of pride for both myself and my family."