LONDON (AP) — Former England captain Dylan Hartley retired from professional rugby on Thursday because of a longstanding knee injury.
The injury has prevented the 33-year-old hooker and one of rugby's worst serial offenders 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," Hartley said in a statement on his Northampton Saints club website.
Hartley retires as England's second most capped player, 97 tests since 2008.
He was made captain in 2016 by coach Eddie Jones, and led England to its first Six Nations Grand Slam in 13 years, a successful defense of the trophy in 2017, series sweeps in Australia and Argentina, and a record-tying 18-match winning streak. He won 25 of his 30 tests as captain.
At the time of his career-ending injury, he was co-captain of England but the reserve hooker, and went on to miss the Rugby World Cup, where England reached the final last weekend.
Hartley was born and schooled in New Zealand but left at 15 for England, for which 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 represent and captain England."
Hartley moved to Northampton in 2005 and became club captain in 2009, the youngest at 23 in Premiership history. He was part of the club's most successful period, including a Premiership, two European Challenge Cups, an Anglo-Welsh Cup, and a European Cup final among his 251 club appearances.
Injuries eventually limited his club appearances, while 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 when Hartley was the England captain.
He was ruled out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup after a four-week ban for headbutting George in a Premiership semifinal match. Injury cost him the 2019 tournament and he played only one in 2011.
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. He was never sent off in a test but yellow-carded three times.
"My career wasn't perfect, but I wouldn't have had it any other way," Hartley said. "I'm privileged to have experienced some amazing highs while there have also been some personal lows, all of which are powerful experiences that will stay with me forever. The final chapter of my career was supposed to go a different way, but that is the nature of professional sport."
Jones said Hartley "was a tough, enduring character for us."
"He was a foundation captain and we owe him a lot for his contribution to the making of this team," Jones said. "We will be forever indebted to him for his dedication and commitment to the team and his love of English rugby."
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