Munster Head Coach Graham Rowntree has admitted he was "saddened" by last weekend's news that Andrew Conway had retired from the game.
Conway, one of Ireland and Munster's best players, confirmed via a statement that he had tried to do everything to get back playing, but his ongoing battle with knee injuries forced him to reconsider and retire from professional rugby.
The issues around his knee injury ruled him out of the last United Rugby Championship season and the Rugby World Cup in France.
“Unfortunately, I have been advised to retire from professional rugby because of a knee injury,” he said. “An incredible amount of work has been put in by the Munster and IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) medics to get me back, and I can’t thank you all enough for your commitment. Thank you to all the backroom staff I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths and work with over the years,"he said last week.
"You know who you are. A special mention to Damien Mordan, Keith Fox, Dr. Jamie Kearns, and Dr. Ciaran Cosgrave for your care and support through the years. Thank you to Rugby Players Ireland and my agents for your guidance in the past and into the future."
During his international career, Conway won 30 Ireland caps after making his debut in 2017 and scored 15 tries. He also played 150 times for Munster and is the province's third-highest scorer with 50 tries.
Unfortunately, Conway played his 150th and final game for Munster at Thomond Park last month.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) November 9, 2023
Munster played Ulster on Friday night and were beaten by a narrow scoreline in Belfast. The obvious questions around performance were put to Rowntree, but there was also time for reflection about Conway's retirement from the game. Rowntree praised the 32-year-old for his contribution to the province on Friday and said, “Nah. What a man, what an icon of the club.
“It was an emotional meeting yesterday (last Thursday) when he told the playing group. We feel for him. He has worked exceptionally hard coming back from a long-term knee injury and it was like having a new signing with him on deck. The way he speaks, the way he coaches lads on the field. But it wasn’t to be. His knee is at him. He has made a decision to control the situation.
“What else has he got to prove? I wish him all the best. We will miss him."
Fears always arise from coaches and fans when star players call it a day in any sport. This is especially true in Ireland and Munster, where the player pool is a lot smaller than in other countries. However, Rowntree has backed another potential young player to become the next "Andrew Conway" in the Munster Academy. According to Rowntree, this is the circle of life in top-level sport.
“You don’t get them. We will have to bring some more through. They all start somewhere. Conway had to start somewhere. We have got some pretty good talent coming through, in the back three in particular. No, I was hugely saddened by the news. Saddened. But I respect his decision and wish him all the best. We will miss him.”
Munster plays the Stormers this weekend. That game kicks off at 17:15 on November 18, this coming Saturday.