- Isa Nacewa – Leinster and Fiji (1 cap)
Mr. Leinster hangs up his boots last Saturday after an illustrious career that included 4 European Cups, 1 Challenge Cup, Pro12 and Pro14 victories. He will be sorely missed by the men in blue next season and has had a stellar year to round things off. He kicked the winning goal in the Champions Cup final and has deputised in almost every position in the backline this season, showing off the versatility that made him such a valuable asset. It is quite a shame that his international career did not live up to the same standards of his club one but how just it was that he got to raise the Pro 14 trophy aloft, after his final game.
- Tommy Bowe – Ulster, Ireland (69 caps) and British and Irish Lions (5 caps)
Who could ever think of the name Tommy Bowe without in their head exclaiming it in the voice of Ryle Nugent. What wonderful memories the former Grand Slam winner has given us. In a career that was plagued by injury and criticism, the Monaghan man always seemed to bounce back. However, time has caught up on poor Tommy and he has been forced to call it a day, given the rise of young Irish wingers in the ranks. He leaves us with an amazing try-scoring record for Ulster, the Ospreys, Ireland and the Lions.
- Conrad Smith – Pau and New Zealand (94 caps)
The kiwi known as “Snakey” Smith always had a knack for cutting opposition defences to pieces, with his clever running lines and dummy passes. He calls time on a career that encapsulates 2 World Cup wins, a victorious 2005 Lions Test Series. He has not played as much lately, as he became accustomed to life in The Pyrenees with Pau this past year. He will take up a role as an advocate for International Rugby Players next year.
- Aurelien Rougerie – Clermont Auvergne and France (76 caps)
Even though he was more comfortable at 13, it would be impossible to leave out a man who has called time on a 19-year-career at 37 years of age. The Clermont skipper is synonymous with the club and was payed a heartfelt tribute last month at Stade Marcel Michelin, with both teams giving him a guard of honour as he was substituted and all of the fans waiting to hear his farewell after the final whistle. He will always be remembered for ending the drought of Top 14 championships for the Yellow Army in 2010. He moves into a role in coaching in the club that he loves so well.
- Bryan Habana – Toulon and South Africa (124 caps)
Probably the most prolific try-scorer on the planet, with 15 in Rugby World Cups, including 8 in South Africa’s winning 2007 campaign. Following that victory, he was named the IRB World Player of the Year. He has been forced into making his decision a little early this year, as he was continuously left out of the Toulon squad after his return from injury. He sits in 2nd in the all-time international try-scoring list with 67.
- Juan Martin Hernandez – Jaguares and Argentina (74 caps)
They don’t just hand-out nicknames like “El Mago” (The Magician). The Argentine has dazzled the crowds on both sides of the equator in a career that will be remembered for his amazing performances in Argentina’s most successful World Cup performance to date in 2007. His sweetly struck drop-goals, crunching hits and pin-point accurate kicking game led Los Pumas all the way to the semi-finals. His career has been halted prematurely due to a nasty knee injury but we will always have the memories of some of the out-half’s magic.
- Frederic Michalak – Lyon and France (77 caps)
Lyon’s maverick halfback has had hundreds of critics over the years, but no one can doubt that when he is on, he is almost unstoppable. He searched for the perfect swan-song, as he led Lyon to the Top 14 semi-finals, after a fantastic season with underdogs. He looked to add to his already impressive collection of medals, including 2 European Cups and 2 Six Nations Championships, one of which was a Grand Slam. However, his side were beaten in the penultimate game against Montpellier and Freddie will have to be content with already brim-full trophy cabinet.
- Jamie Heaslip – Leinster, Ireland (95 caps) and British and Irish Lions (5 caps)
5 Lions caps, a Grand Slam, 3 European Cups and a World Rugby Try of the year accolade. That’s not half bad for a man that was told early on in his career that he was not fast, big or strong enough for international rugby. A back injury was too much for the durable back-rower to come back from this year, as he announced his retirement in February on medical advice. He will be sorely missed by all in Irish rugby and the fans will forever be in his debt for his performance against the All Blacks in Chicago in that famous win.
- Yannick Nyanga – Racing 92 and France (46 caps)
French fans have been in disarray after the back rower announced his full retirement this year. He has had his best season in years, leading Racing 92 to a Champions Cup final and Top 14 semi-final last weekend. His solitary victory in professional competition remains the 2006 Six Nations Championship. It would have been more than deserved if he had reached the Top 14 final this weekend and finally got the winners medal that eluded him, but alas his side were upset by Castres and there will be no fairy tale ending.
- Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe – Toulon and Argentina (71 caps)
The former Pumas skipper will lead out the Baa Baas on Saturday against England, in what will be his final game in professional rugby. He played in 3 world cups, including that famous 2007 run. His performance against Scotland in 2011 epitomizes the man, as he refused to leave the field, despite suffering a dislocated knee-cap. He has tasted domestic and European success with Toulon and will be remembered there as one of the first stars to arrive, but also for being a club legend.
- Tom Croft – Leicester Tigers, England (40 caps) and British and Irish Lions (5 caps)
The Leicester Tiger was comfortable at blindside, as well as in the 2nd row. He has been plagued by injury throughout his career, which makes it all the more impressive that he has reached the heights that he has. He draws the final curtain at just 32-years of age, following a career that included a brace on his Lions test debut and was nominated for IRB Player of the Year that same year. He was part of the Lions squad again in 2013, when they broke the duck with a series win. What a shame that the career of one of the fastest forwards in the game has been cut so short.
- Donncha O’Callaghan – Worcester Warriors, Ireland (94 caps) and British and Irish Lions (4 caps)
Munster’s most capped player will take up a role as a corporate ambassador in the club next season. He played out his final season as captain of Worcester Warriors at Sixways. He has earned the highest of respect in England after a couple of seasons with the side, being named the club’s supporter’s Player of the Year last season. He played a total of 20 seasons at the professional level, which is absolutely amazing for an abrasive lock. He attributes his longevity to the diligence he has given to looking after his body over his career. He leaves with a 2009 Grand Slam and 2 European Cup medals.
- Adam Jones – Harlequins, Wales (95 caps) and British and Irish Lions (5 caps)
The tighthead’s list of honours is extensive to say the least. 3 Grand Slams, 2 Lions tours and 3 world cup attendances, including Wales 4th place finish in 2011 feature. He was a rock in the scrum throughout his career and will take on a role coaching the new crop with Harlequins next season.
- Schalk Brits – Saracens and South Africa (10 caps)
Oh, how Premiership rugby fans will miss the audacious offloads and footwork that is associated with the hooker’s game. His performances for Sarries abroad did not go unnoticed and earned him a recall to the Springbok squad in 2015 for the World Cup. He has won 4 Premierships and 2 European Cups at the English side and has really broken the mould for what a hooker should be, still goose-stepping his way to the try-line at 37-years of age. He won his 4th league title last Saturday, as his side thumped Exeter at Twickenham. What a great way to round off a fantastic career.
- Wyatt Crockett – Crusaders and New Zealand (71 caps)
The front-rower opted not to come to Europe to make some retirement money, as he has said his career will end following this year’s Super Rugby season. He will be sorely missed in the All Blacks setup, as he seemed to always come through for his country, losing just 3 of his 71 appearances. He currently holds the world record for consecutive test wins, with 45.