Having delayed the inevitable longer than anyone could possibly imagine, Peter Stringer last night finally brought down the curtain on his 20-year rugby career.
The 40-year-old made his Munster debut in 1998, and signed off after two decades that saw him win two Heineken Cups, three league titles, three Triple Crowns, a Grand Slam and 98 Ireland caps.
After leaving Munster in 2012, initially on loan, the scrum half’s career took on a new lease of life that saw him wear the shirts of Saracens, Newcastle, Bath, Sale and Worcester as he battled against calling time on what he called his dream job.
“From the age of five, all I ever dreamed of doing was playing rugby, I cannot describe how it feels to have lived that dream for nearly all my life,” he said, in a statement confirming his retirement.
The journey has been an uncompromising obsession filled with memories I will cherish forever.
“To the coaches who never saw my size as disadvantageous, thank you. To my teammates who motivated and inspired me, thank you. To my parents and brothers, I could not have reached my goals without you.
“Thank you to my clubs in England — Saracens, Newcastle, Bath, Sale and Worcester — who gave me an opportunity to continue playing the game I love.”
England prolonged his playing career when Munster and a certain Conor Murray ended the love affair with his home province, but the memories made in red will linger longest.
The Hand of Back will always figure in Stringer’s life story, but thankfully it was overshadowed by his try against Biarritz in the 2006 Heineken Cup final, producing one of the sport’s most iconic images. His role in the province’s long-desired European success was a fittingly central one.
“My proudest days on a rugby field came from wearing the red of Munster and the green of Ireland and will remain with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
His pass to Ronan O’Gara — with whom he first played alongside as baby-faced 12-year-olds — set up Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 51 years back in 2009, and Stringer was a regular for Ireland from 2000 to 2006, before a host of other contenders pushed their way into the No 9 shirt. Eventually, his time in green came to an end, in 2011, with victory over England at Lansdowne Road an appropriate farewell.
“To those supporters, you are incredible people who stood by me and cheered for me no matter who I played for and for that, I will be forever grateful,” he said.
“Lastly, thank you to Debbie my wife, for the last 10 years when I faced some difficult decisions, you were there for me and backed me every step of the way. Here’s to the next chapter. Strings.”