Connacht Rugby has been shocked by the sudden retirement of long-serving Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson who has been forced to retire from the sport immediately as a result of a recent neck injury.
The popular 30-years-old South African-born rugby player, who has 183 caps for Connacht, damaged a neck ligament during Connacht's final Heineken Cup game against Saracens and, following medical consultations, he has been directed to immediately stop playing any contact sport.
Having joined the province eight years ago, Wilkinson established himself as a first choice prop after making his debut against the Borders, and was also capped five times for the Irish Wolfhounds. Although selected to travel to New Zealand with Ireland in 2012, his only game for his adopted country was in an uncapped friendly with the Barbarians.
Wilkinson has described his sudden retirement as a "big shock".
"I'm devastated that I won't play again, but the nature of my injury was very serious and I have to appreciate that I have my health," he said.
"I have had time to get over the initial shock and I am just real grateful for all the opportunities I have had through rugby.
"Connacht has been building and building every year, and while I am sad I won't be a part of it in the same way anymore, I'm excited to follow its progress as a supporter and a friend.
“My teammates at Connacht, former and present, are some of the best friends I have, and the memories of sharing the highs and lows of professional sport with them is something I’ll have forever.
“The Connacht supporters are some of the best in the world, and I’d like to thank them for welcoming me so openly to Galway and Connacht - a place I now call home.”
Having worked under coaches Michael Bradley, Eric Elwood, and now Pat Lam, Wilkinson paid special thanks to assistant coach Dan McFarland whom, he said, had "influenced my game in so many ways".
McFarland described Wilkinson as an “unheralded but talented club player” when he arrived in Galway, who through hard work and perseverance” deservedly wore the No 1 jersey for a long time”.
Pat Lam described Wilkinson as a "true team man".
"He is not afraid of hard work, and represents what it is to be a Connacht man and wear the Connacht jersey.
"The work he did this season with Dan [McFarland] to improve his game was phenomenal and he has been so reliable for us on and off the pitch. For now, he will remain a big part of the squad as we look to finish the season on a high."
From the Eastern Cape in South Africa, Wilkinson won a scholarship from school to the University of Cape Town, but has played all his club rugby with Connacht. Engaged to an Irish woman, Wilkinson was granted Irish citizenship last year and plans to remain in Ireland.