IT'S THE end of an era at Gloucester Rugby, as Andy Hazell, who is destined to go down as one of the club's true legends, has confirmed that he is to retire from the game with immediate effect.
Gloucester born and bred, Hazell has spent his entire playing career with his home town club. His 17 seasons with one club is unmatched in the professional area.
The ultimate professional, he made his debut for the club as a replacement back in 1997-8 when the top division in English club rugby was known as the Allied Dunbar Premiership.
Since then, he has gone on to make more than 250 competitive appearances for the club as well as earning seven caps for England.
Hazell embraced professionalism from the off, meticulous in his preparation and training, setting an example for scores of young Gloucester players.
However, despite physically being in as good shape as ever coming into the 2013-14 season, he has struggled to overcome a concussion injury picked up in pre-season and reluctantly decided to take medical advice and call it a day.
Hazell admitted that it was the right decision in the circumstances.
"There are mixed emotions to be honest," said Andy. "I'm sad that it's all coming to an end but, at the same time, I'm proud to have played 17 seasons for my home town club.
"It started back in August. I got concussed, came back and then got concussed again. I worked hard to get back, and tried everything but it still wasn't right. Ultimately, it was too much of a risk at this stage of my career to try and play on.
"For me, it's been a privilege to play for Gloucester. Watching the team as a youngster, having my family around me, it's made it a special experience.
"Highlights would be Richard Hill calling me into the office to get my first contract, winning the Powergen Cup at Twickenham and the Amlin Challenge Cup against London Irish."
And, as a Gloucester lad who grew up supporting the club, it's appropriate that his final word was for the Kingsholm faithful.
"I'd like to thank the supporters. They've always been great to me. I think if you show them that you're giving 100 per cent all the time, they'll always have your back. It's one of the things I'll miss the most.”
Director of rugby Nigel Davies paid tribute to Hazell's contribution, saying: "He's a true servant, a true warrior. He represents everything that's good about Gloucester, about the club and what it stands for.
"He's put his body on the line time and time again for the cause.
"It's a sad day to see him retiring. It was probably always at the back of his mind that this might be his last season, and he would have wanted to play a few more games, but he's given everything to the club.
"You have to admire someone like that. Gloucester is everything to him and I know that everyone connected with the club – staff, players and supporters alike, hold him in the highest regard.”