THE Bull will rage no more. Phil Vickery, and England World Cup winner in 2003, finally bowed out of rugby today, aged 34, with one of the most emotional farewell speeches of modern times.
The Wasps prop and former England captain said from the Wasps training ground in west London: “I’ve had a difficult few weeks. It became apparent I had a neck problem and I was told it was best to hang up my boots.
“I came through shingles and a few other problems but it became apparent there was a little bit more there.”
The tears weren’t far away as the Raging Bull ended his 15-year career with a mumbled: “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I’m disappointed. But looking forward to the future and proud of what I’ve achieved.
“I’ve been talking about things. I’ve got a mixed bag of everything. People are proud but that makes it worse. But I look back on good memories. I’m churned up inside, lying in bed at night thinking about all the people.
“But I think I’ve made the right decision. I’ve got to move on.”
A veteran of four career-threatening neck operations, Vickery groans: “They’ve said enough’s enough. And that’s defeat. I don’t like losing. But nobody can question my desire, I still do dearly want to play the game, sat here right now.
“It’s a decision we’ve made. I can’t really do any more than that.”
Vickery revealed he was desperate to play in a fourth World Cup in New Zealand next year after six months of working his way back to fitness. He said: “I spent the whole pre-season as strong as I’ve been for a long time. To come back in to the season and for this to happen is a bit of a tough one.
“But I can look back and say I’ve done my very best. All I can do. I can put hand on hear, look myself in the mirror and say that. I can live with that.”
Wasps boss Tony Hanks said: “Everyone’s really disappointed. Phil’s a big part of our squad. He’s one of the best tightheads around. It’s the right decision for Phil, it’s a good time to celebrate what he’s done.”
Vickery earned 73 England caps and made five Test appearances for the Lions – his last international appearance was for the British and Irish outfit in their third Test victory over South Africa at Ellis Park in the summer of 2009. That came a fortnight after he had been muscled out of the scrum repeatedly by South African prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira, leading to premature reports of the Bull's demise.
Vickery's final club outing was on September 25 against Gloucester, where he spent 11 years after moving from his home in Cornwall.
Vickery featured in every game of the 2003 World Cup triumph in Australia, scoring his first Test try against Samoa and starting the final against the hosts in Sydney.
His career looked over in 2006 when he left Gloucester after being told he could not play on after neck problems. But the Wasps medical team disagreed and Vickery was able to eke out another four years of rugby at the top level, including a Heineken Cup win in 2007 followed by his epic captaining of England to the World Cup final in France, where they lost to South Africa.
Vickery is now likely to play an ambassadorial role for Wasps, though his experience in the dark arts of the scrum will surely lead to offers of coaching roles around the world.a