Wales back James Hook has revealed he will retire from rugby at the end of the season.
The 34-year-old played 81 times for Wales and toured with the 2009 British and Irish Lions in South Africa
Hook says he wants to prioritise “being able to go out in the garden and play” with his three young children over extending his rugby career and risking injury.
Becoming a children’s author is also among Hook’s future career goals.
Hook will see out the remainder of the season with the Ospreys before hanging up his boots for good in the summer to focus on a series of rugby-themed children’s books, as well as a career in coaching.
Having seen at first hand the physical toll the sport has taken on close friends and team-mates he says he is now just happy to be able to leave the game on his own terms.
“A lot of my close friends at the Ospreys have retired and have had to retire early as well because of injuries,” said Hook.
“The nature of the game now is really physical. You play a game and it takes you three or four days to get over the bumps and bruises.
“I’ve got a young family. I’ve got three young boys, and a wife as well, and I want to be able to go in the garden and play and kick a ball about with them.
“I consider myself one of the lucky ones. There is more to life than rugby.”
‘I should have achieved more’
Hook scored 352 points in 81 Tests between 2006 and 2015. He was part of two Grand Slams and three Six Nations-winning sides, and played in three World Cups.
There were club stints at Perpignan and Gloucester but his significant success – including two league titles – came at Ospreys, where he started and now finishes his professional career.
Almost from the moment Hook announced himself on the professional scene, he became a firm favourite of home fans at the Liberty Stadium and beyond.
But it was not until the final game of the 2007 Six Nations that he truly commanded the international stage with an inspirational match-winning performance against England.
A disastrous championship served up the prospect of the wooden spoon in the final game before Hook belied his 21 years by producing a composed performance from fly-half, a position he shared with Stephen Jones and Dan Biggar.
There was always a James Hook conundrum: where does he play? 10? Yes. 12? Well, yeah. 13? If needed. 15? Perhaps. His versatility proved a strength and a weakness.
“I probably feel I should have achieved more,” he said.
“I played in a number of different positions. I started at outside-half, moved to 12, then to 13 and I played 15. That is pretty much the story of my career.
“Perhaps that was a factor. I was probably to blame at times as well by not performing and nailing down certain positions.
“That’s rugby, you know.”
Becoming a children’s author
As he eyes the end of his playing career thoughts are now turning to life after rugby and the next chapter.
Having played in Wales, France, and England’s top leagues, he has no desire to leave the game for good with a testimonial year the first of a number of projects planned.
Aspirations of following mentors like Stephen Jones and Neil Jenkins into coaching are at the forefront of his mind, with plans already in place to complete his coaching badges.
But it is rugby of the literary sort that will first take his attention as he prepares to release a series of children’s books centred around the exploits of a young rugby player with dreams of reaching the top.
Chasing a Rugby Dream: Kick-Off is set for release in the spring and its creation is all thanks to a trip to a book fair with his oldest son, Harrison.
“There was a book fair going on after school and he asked me if we could go and get a book and he wanted a rugby book,” said Hook.
“I was shocked really because there was no rugby book there. It was all full of football and a couple of other sports so I said I’d get one online and there was nothing there.
“I thought there’s an opportunity here so I wrote a few ideas down.”
The first of what he hopes will be an ongoing series will be released in the spring before the run-in to the end of his final season as a professional player.
When he does finally call time, spare a thought for one couple in their nineties who will also have a change to make.
Grandparents Will and Betty have been the first people Hook has called on the day of every game of his career.
“From pretty much my Neath days, I’ve rung them pretty much every morning before a game,” said Hook.
“There’s not a game gone by when I haven’t spoken to them, so I’m probably going to miss that part of it.
“There will be little things like that. Just turning up to training and seeing the boys, and just things you take for granted that come the end of the season will be taken away.
“It’s going to be sad because I’ve played the game for so long but I want to stay involved in it and enjoy life after rugby.”