Ex-England captain Dylan Hartley retires from rugby aged 33 because of crippling knee injury.

DYLAN HARTLEY has retired from rugby after failing to recover from a crippling knee injury.

The 33-year-old is England’s most-capped hooker and also his country's second most-capped player of all time with 97 Test appearances to his name.

Named England skipper when boss Eddie Jones arrived at Twickenham in 2016, Hartley led his country to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2016, a historic whitewash of Australia as well as a second Six Nations in 2017.

The New Zealand-born hardman said: “I am extremely proud of my journey, both with Northampton Saints and representing England, but now is the right time to hang up my playing boots.

“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.

"I have to thank all the staff at Saints who have all invested so much time in helping me with my rehabilitation, in particular S&C coach Eamonn Hyland.

“I have loved my journey in rugby. I came to England as a teenager hoping to get a few games of rugby and to see the world.

"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.

“Northampton Saints has been more than just a club to me. It has been a place that has provided me with direction, purpose, a sense of family, home and belonging; and ultimately a community that I was so proud to represent every time I got a chance to play for Northampton."

Hartley - who has been out since December 2018 with the injury - had his fair share of bans for crimes on the pitch.

He couldn't feature in the 2015 World Cup after headbutting Jamie George and in total was missing for an incredible 60 WEEKS of his career due to punishments from eye-gouging, biting, verbally abusing ref Wayne Barnes and elbowing.

Hartley admitted: "My career wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

"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.

“I would not have been able to achieve what I have without the support of my wife Jo, my family, my friends and my teammates. To them all, I am incredibly grateful for their love and unwavering support.”

England boss Eddie Jones said: “Dylan has had a significant international career playing for his country having played 97 Tests, and 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. We will be forever indebted to him for his dedication and commitment to the team and his love of English rugby.”

At just 23 he became the youngest captain in Premiership history when he was given the armband at Franklin's Gardens back in 2009.

Hartley went on to lead his teammates to a Prem title, two European Challenge Cups and an Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Saints chairman John White added: “Dylan has been a pillar of Northampton RFC since his arrival at Franklin’s Gardens in 2005.

“In amassing over 250 appearances in a Saints jersey throughout the club’s most-successful period, he has guaranteed his place amongst the likes of Edgar Mobbs, Ron Jacobs and Tim Rodber in the pantheon of Northampton’s rugby legends.

“His achievements of England are also almost unparalleled by his peers, but it is not only on the field where Dylan has conducted himself with dignity and humility.

“He has been an outstanding representative for the club within our community in Northampton and made a significant impact via his high-profile involvement with numerous charities.

“Dylan has therefore become a role model for countless young people here in Northampton, and we hope he will continue to do this within a new role we have offered him at Saints, where he will act as a club ambassador and help us to maximise our impact across Northamptonshire and beyond.”

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