A hand injury has forced Tom Willis, the former Otago and Waikato hooker who captained the All Blacks on debut, to retire from rugby aged 32.
Willis sustained a hand injury playing for Welsh side Newport Gwent Dragons last October and has since been advised to hang up his boots to avoid causing further damage to his hand, though he admitted it was a tough decision to make.
He had played for the Dragons since 2008, including three seasons as captain for the club.
''Regrettably I have been advised that a successful return to the pitch is unlikely and ultimately could lead to me having significant problems with my hand in the future,'' he told the club's website.
''I have had a great time whilst with the Dragons and will always cherish memories of typical Newport Friday nights, fantastic Rodney Parade crowds and playing alongside a great bunch of guys.''
Dragons head coach Darren Edwards said Willis had been a key figure in the team's development.
''He has demonstrated an extraordinary work ethic and strong leadership at Rodney Parade and I have to say he is probably the most stand-up player I have ever worked with.''
Willis played for Otago, Waikato the Highlanders and the Chiefs between 1999 and 2008, and featured in five All Blacks tests between 2001 and 2002.
He also captained the All Blacks in two midweek matches on their European tour at the end of 2001, in his debut against Ireland A and also against Scotland A.
However, he failed to make the 2003 World Cup squad after injury in 2002 saw him fall down the pecking order. A back injury, which forced him out of rugby for more than a year in 2004 and 2005, prematurely ended his international career.
He returned from injury to play for the Chiefs until 2008, when he joined the Welsh outfit, but New Zealand's hooking depth at the time meant he was unable to break back into the All Blacks.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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