Scarlets great Ken Owens to retire from rugby

Scarlets great Ken Owens to retire from rugby

Former club captain and one of the Scarlets’ all-time greats, Ken Owens, has announced his retirement from rugby.

The 37-year-old hooker will be remembered as one of the finest players to pull on the Scarlets jersey, having played 274 matches for the club and represented Wales and the British & Irish Lions during an illustrious career.

A proud Welsh speaker from Carmarthen, Ken was a product of the Carmarthen Athletic club and Ysgol Bro Myrddin. He joined the ranks of the Scarlets Academy at Stradey Park in 2004 before breaking into the senior team.

Ken made his first-team debut at the age of 19 in a pre-season clash against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens in 2006 and has played for an incredible 18 seasons, joining an exclusive group of players to make 250 appearances.

A hugely respected leader, he captained the Scarlets for a record-breaking seven successive seasons, surpassing the great Phil Bennett. He was club captain for the Guinness PRO12 title-winning season in 2016-17 and led the club to the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup a year later.

Wales’ most capped hooker, he played 91 times for Wales, featured in three Rugby World Cups and captained his country for the first time during the 2023 Six Nations. He toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2017 and 2021, playing in six Tests.

Affectionately known as ‘The Sheriff’, Ken was a hugely popular figure with the Scarlets faithful.

Speaking about his decision, Ken said: “Reluctantly, I am announcing my retirement from rugby. Not playing has been challenging, but the time is right to follow medical advice and hang up my boots.

“Had I written the script there would have been one more game for Wales, for the Scarlets and ultimately Carmarthen Athletic. A chance to sign off and thank everyone involved. It was not to be. It might not be the dream ending but my career has been more than I could have dreamt of.

“Whilst part of me wishes I could have done more, I am well aware that if you had told me as a kid I would be fortunate enough to experience what I have, to have worked with and played with the people I have and taken the pleasure I have from this amazing game, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Commenting on his journey to the international stage, Ken added: “Across the clubs of Wales there are countless volunteers who, like my parents at the Athletic, give their time, energy and commitment to this game. When you are lucky enough to play for Wales, you never lose sight of the fact that these are the people who put you in the shirt. The thousands of people who make up the community game in Wales all play their part. I hope I did them proud.”

In January 2023, after almost a year sidelined with a back injury, Ken was named Wales captain for the 2023 Six Nations Championship. He played the last of his 91 Test matches for Wales against France in March 2023.

Selected for the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017, Ken captained the side against the Blues and was part of the Test match for the epic drawn series. He was also named in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad for the tour to South Africa in 2021, featuring in all three Tests against the Springboks.

He attributes his success to the support he has received over the years. He went on to say: “There are countless people I would like to thank. My mother and father have supported me from the minute I first played. My sister Victoria was capped before me so even though the novelty had worn off, they still managed to encourage me on my journey.

“My club, Carmarthen Athletic, gave me so much. A brilliant introduction to rugby and friends for life. I can never thank the people there adequately.

“My only professional club, the Scarlets, believed in me and I hope my loyalty over 19 years has repaid the faith you showed.

“To have played 91 times for Wales is an honour I can never fully describe. To be a Lion… lost for words.

“My wife has been unbelievable, diolch Carys, permanently keeping my feet on the ground! To my boys, Efan and Talfan, thank you for completing my family.

“My coaches. The support staff. Diolch yn fawr iawn.”

He added: “In Welsh there is a concept – y Filltir Sgwar – that means you are shaped by and represent where you are from. Where I am from means so much to me and to see that same feeling in the faces of supporters, for club and country, has been a genuine privilege. Thank you all.

“I will take some time to reflect and decide what to do next. If I can give back to my community and the game a fraction of what it has given me I will be a very proud man.”

Paying tribute to a player who has been at the heart of the club for nearly two decades, Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel said: “Ken is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have worn the Scarlets jersey. From when he started here as a youngster in the Academy, he has remained a one-club man throughout his career and been an outstanding ambassador for the Scarlets.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him as a player and a person. He is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, has been a warrior on the field and has always led by example.

“He captained the club the season we won the PRO12 title, led us to a Champions Cup semi-final, but more importantly, he epitomises all the core values of our great club, a proud West Walian, a family man with his heart firmly in his community.

“If ever the young players at the club wanted a role model for their professional career, they should look to Ken Owens. He is someone who is going to leave a massive hole and he will be missed by everyone here at Parc y Scarlets, his team-mates, coaches and all the staff.”

Scarlets Executive Chairman Simon Muderack added: “Ken has been a true West Walian role model, someone who has led the club and Wales in both good and bad times. He is a great family man of our community and a lifetime member of the club with 274 caps, one of an exclusive group of players to achieve that milestone in our proud 150-year history.

“Ken will always be a Scarlet in all our minds and we look forward to seeing him and his family at the Parc for many years to come.”

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