Former Ireland captain Paul O'Connell heads for retirement
Paul O'Connell has been forced to retire without playing a game for Toulon, unable to beat the hamstring injury that ended his World Cup prematurely.
The 36-year-old retired from Test rugby after Ireland's World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina, but had missed the last-eight clash after tearing his hamstring in the pool-stage victory over France.
O'Connell had always planned to trade home province Munster for Toulon and retire from international rugby after the World Cup, but that autumn injury has now denied him a club swansong with the French giants.
Brian O'Driscoll branded O'Connell "simply irreplaceable", while former Munster team-mate Donnacha Ryan tipped the gritty lock for a glittering coaching career.
"It is with deep regret that I have decided to retire from professional rugby following medical advice," said O'Connell in an Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) statement.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank all at Rugby Club Toulonnais for their understanding and support over the past few months.
"Since sustaining the injury at the World Cup I have been fully focused on returning to fitness and starting an exciting new chapter for both myself and my family in Toulon.
"Unfortunately this will no longer be possible."
Ireland's talismanic former captain racked up 108 caps in 13 years of Test rugby, and will go down as one of his country's finest international stars.
O'Connell's long-time Ireland and British and Irish Lions team-mate O'Driscoll tweeted "Really disappointing to see Paul O'Connell having to retire. Sensational career in red and green. Simply irreplaceable."
O'Connell's retirement gave Ireland lock Ryan pause from preparations for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash with France in Paris.
Munster second row Ryan insisted O'Connell will have his pick of coaching jobs if he takes that route.
"Any club who are looking at adding to a coaching ticket would be knocking on his door," said Ryan of O'Connell.
"The wealth of knowledge he has, he is a fantastic communicator. As a leader the best thing he does is he gets you to do things you don't want to, but enjoy it at the same time.
"You would know full well he would be the first to go there and be first up to do it.
"Being alongside him made you raise your game.
"I never felt I was competing against a different player, I felt I was competing against him.
"He was the best second row in the world, and the science he brought to the line-out was amazing.
"To be a student of his was such an incentive to stay at Munster, even to sacrifice game time to have the ability to train underneath him and learn properly how to be a line-out caller."
O'Connell beat the turf in agony on tearing his hamstring in Ireland's 24-9 Pool D World Cup victory over France, reacting as much to the pain as the clear result of the blow.
The uncompromising Munster lock was quickly ruled out of Ireland's quarter-final showdown with Argentina, and Joe Schmidt's side later lost out 43-20.
O'Connell pressed on undeterred in his bid to join Toulon, despite requiring surgery to repair his serious hamstring problem.
Four months on, however, the British and Irish Lion has been forced to admit defeat in that battle to return to the field.
"I have been blessed to be a professional rugby player for over 14 years and to be part of Munster and Ireland teams that have experienced success," said O'Connell.
"I have played with some of the best players to ever line out in the red of Munster and the green of Ireland and have had the privilege of captaining my country.
"I would like to thank those at Young Munster RFC, Munster Rugby, the IRFU and Lions Rugby who have supported me over the course of my playing career.
"Special thanks must go to my wife Emily for her unwavering support through the good and the bad and to my parents Michael and Shelagh.
"Lastly I would like to thank everyone who has supported the teams I have been a part of.
"The support you have shown me is humbling and an immense source of pride for both myself and my family."