Wales international Richard Hibbard has announced his retirement as a professional rugby player, ending a top-flight career that has spanned close on two decades.
A Test series winner with the Lions in 2013, the charismatic hooker bows out from the Dragons with immediate effect.
He celebrated his 38th birthday last month.
His has been an epic stint at the crease, starting when he made his bow for Swansea in 2002-03, encouraged along the way by Paul Moriarty, with an Ospreys debut following in 2004. He’s worn his heart on his sleeve ever since and given everything for the teams he has played for, the Ospreys Gloucester, the Dragons, Wales and the Lions, every time he has taken the field.
The most physical of players, he has opted to pack in because of injury.
Dragons director of rugby Dean Ryan paid a nice tribute, saying: “Hibbs has been an important figure during my time at Dragons, both with his efforts on the field and his work developing youngsters within our squad.
“His contribution to Welsh rugby has been enormous over the years, especially when you consider what he achieved and the impact he made for Wales and the British and Irish Lions.
“I’m sure he will be greatly missed by supporters of our game, with whom he always had a great affinity.
“He leaves us with our best wishes. Hibbs and his family will always be warmly welcomed back to Rodney Parade.”
Hibbard’s career peaked with the Ospreys, for whom he made 175 appearances before leaving for Gloucester in 2014. Just as he was a firm favourite in Swansea, he acquired cult-hero status at Kingsholm, with The Shed relishing his wholehearted displays. One teenage fan actually had a tattoo of Hibbard’s face inked onto one of her legs.
He won his first Wales cap in 2006 and went on to make 38 appearances for his country, along with three Test outings for the Lions.
Renowned for his big hits, he was to the fore when Wales defeated England 30-3 to win the Six Nations title in 2013, his perfectly timed shot on Joe Marler helping to set the tone for arguably Wales’ finest performance under Warren Gatland.
Supporters enjoyed his no-fear style of play and identified with his down-to-earth approach. Journalists enjoyed dealing with someone who always told it as it was, old school in that he could be both helpful and trusting. Fellow professionals liked Hibbard, too.
In a highly personal statement announcing he had reached the end of the road as a player, he said: “I guess I’m very sad to say that, unfortunately, my body has finally said enough is enough.
“What a ride it’s been. I’ve been lucky enough to do everything I’ve wanted, and more, in this great game.”
There was thanks for fellow team-mates over the year, coaches, physio and doctors who had ‘stuck him back together, back-room staff, kit men and his friend and agent over 20 years, Rhyd, plus his family and friends.
Hibbard will especially remember the on-pitch ties, forged over many battles.
“Something that’s truly special in rugby is the bond you make with the ‘brothers’ who you go to war with every week, and not just the team on the Saturday, the whole squad, every session leading to the weekend.
“During every win, loss, winning streak, losing streak, trophies, injuries, the boys, they kick you when you’re down, and kick you even harder when you’re up. That’s what you do it all for, that slightly weird friendship. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“But the most important person who I want and need to thank is my wife, Louise. Everything great that is built, is always from a strong foundation, and by God she’s been mine. Through injuries, selections, travel, the day after games, grumpiness, Lou’s been the reason I’ve been lucky enough to do what I’ve done in rugby. Big thanks also to my kids – Tiella, Summer and Jaxson – who also help me get through everything.
“Bit long-winded I know, but the only ones left to thank are the supporters — Ospreys, Gloucester, Dragons, Wales, Lions, Barbarians — you’ve all been immense, and it’s been a pleasure and an honour to get battered in your name. So, a big thank you, too.”
It’s fair to say they don’t make ’em like Hibbs any more, a player any team would be reassured to have in their ranks when the going was at its toughest.
Fearsome, steely and loyal.
But Hibbard also enjoyed every minute of it.
And rugby enjoyed having him around.
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