Former Wales captain and two-time British and Irish Lions skipper Warburton has quit rugby’s professional arena at the age of 29.
His decision – 14 months before Wales’ Rugby World Cup campaign begins in Japan – comes after he underwent neck and knee operations last year.
Flanker Warburton, who led the Lions on tours to Australia in 2013 and New Zealand last summer, had not played since the drawn third All Blacks Test 12 months ago.
And Gatland, who appointed Warburton as Wales skipper in 2011 and to lead both Lions tours that the New Zealander was head coach of, paid him a glowing tribute.
“He is an outstanding rugby player and he has brought so much to the game, on and off the pitch,” Gatland said.
“His leadership, attitude and demeanour, along with his performances, have placed Sam up there as one of the best and most respected players in the world.
“He finishes with a record that he should be extremely proud of and he should look back on his career with huge pride.”
Warburton’s announcement was released jointly by the Welsh Rugby Union and his regional team Cardiff Blues.
“Unfortunately, after a long period of rest and rehabilitation, the decision to retire from Rugby has been made with my health and well-being as a priority,” said Warburton, “as my body is unable to give me back what I had hoped for on my return to training.”
Sad to hear of Sam Warburton's retirement but he can look back with immense pride on his career.— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) July 18, 2018
Warburton won 74 Wales caps and captained his country a record 49 times.
Although injuries hit hard during his career, they did not prevent him establishing a reputation among the world’s best openside flankers, with fearless, critical work at the breakdown area proving his major strength.
He returned to training with the Blues this summer after missing the whole of last season, but has now made the decision to call it a day.
The WRU and Blues statement read: “Since returning to pre-season with Cardiff Blues, it has become clear to Warburton that he wouldn’t be able to return to the high standards he has set throughout his career and has reluctantly made the decision to retire.”
Warburton added: “I cannot thank the Welsh Rugby Union and Cardiff Blues enough, who have gone beyond the call of duty in providing the support I received to help me get back on the field, for which I will be forever grateful.
“Since I first played aged 10 at Llanishen Fach Primary School, then Whitchurch High School and Rhiwbina Juniors RFC, I always dreamed of playing for my hometown club the Cardiff Blues, Wales and the British and Irish Lions.
“To look back on my career, I am extremely proud of what I managed to achieve.
49 - Sam Warburton captained Wales on 49 occasions, more than any other player, while he is also one of just two players to captain the Lions on two tours (also Martin Johnson). Skipper. 🏴🦁 pic.twitter.com/oJ63xt08uR— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) July 18, 2018
“There are so many people who helped me along the way from schoolteachers, coaches, friends and family.
“I would like the make special mention of Warren Gatland. Without the faith he had in me and his unwavering support, I would never have had the career I was able to pursue.”
Warburton emulated England Rugby World Cup-winning skipper Martin Johnson in captaining the Lions on two separate tours, and he never lost a Test series, overcoming Australia 2-1 and then drawing last year’s series against reigning world champions New Zealand.
He also steered Wales to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals – he was controversially sent off in the last-four clash against France – and although Warburton leaves a considerable void in the Wales camp, Gatland can be consoled by an array of openside talent available to him offered by players like Justin Tipuric, James Davies, Josh Navidi and Ellis Jenkins.
Genge, 23, was hurt during England’s tour of South Africa last month and returned home early from that three-Test trip.
He subsequently underwent surgery, and Leicester head coach Matt O’Connor told the club’s official website: “We’re probably looking at him playing again in the new year at this stage.”
Genge, who has won five caps, suffered a shoulder injury last season that ended his Six Nations hopes.
O’Connor added: “‘Gengey’ has had the operation and everything went well from that point of view.
Thanks for all the kind words around my injury, don’t worry about me I’ll be back before you know it #M5closedagain— Gengey (@EllisGenge) July 17, 2018
“He’s well into his rehab work now, and then he will start fitness work and building up to play again.
“But he will miss the first phase of the season, and we’re probably looking at him playing again in the new year at this stage.
“But he’s working hard on his recovery and will be good to go when he comes through that rehab.
“It is obviously very disappointing for him and for us, but I’m sure he will be raring to go once he gets back to full fitness, and we know there’s still a lot to come from him.”
Leicester kick off their Gallagher Premiership season against Exeter on September 1.
England, meanwhile, face Tests against world champions New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Japan in November.
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell has named a side laden with international experience for their quest to bring the Melrose Cup back to South Africa at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco from July 20-22.
South Africa are the top seeded team for the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which will be played at AT&T Park – the home of MLB’s Giants, and will travel west as current HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions.
All 12 players in the squad were involved in the last World Series, played across 10 tournaments around the world, but only the Blitzbok captain, Philip Snyman, has experience of playing at a Rugby World Cup Sevens event. He did so in Dubai (2009) and Moscow (2013), while the rest of the squad will make their debuts at this level.
Snyman will become the first Blitzbok to play in three RWC Sevens tournaments. The rest of the team consists of Springok Sevens regulars and will see a return from injury for Rosko Specman and Selvyn Davids, both of whom missed the last two World Series events played in London and Paris last month.
Kyle Brown, Cecil Afrika, Chris Dry, Seabelo Senatla (who all played in Moscow in 2013), Tim Agaba and Stedman Gans were all ruled out due to injury, while Kwagga Smith and Sikhumbuzo Notshe were not considered because of their involvement in Super Rugby.
The fact that the Blitzboks used 28 players during the 2017/18 World Series and the Commonwealth Games, which took place in in Australia in April, softened the unavailability of a couple of those veterans.
“I am pleased with the squad,” Powell said from Mossel Bay, where the team are finalising their preparations before departure to the USA.
“The team was picked with this tournament in mind and I am pleased that these 12 players are all on form and best suited for the way we approach the knock-out format of the event.
“A couple of players missed out on final selection, but did contribute to our overall preparations and those efforts are appreciated and acknowledged. Just as all of the 28 players contributed towards our World Series title, all involved did great work in order to get these 12 players ready for next weekend.”
Snyman said the Blitzboks are determined to make the country proud: “We have received wonderful support from our supporters here in the Southern Cape and Gauteng last week and that made us even more determined not to let them down.
“We do not have the greatest of records in this tournament, but that said, we know we will be a very competitive team if we play to our strengths and within our game plan. It is exciting times for all of us and we are ready to do our best for our country.”
The Springbok Sevens team: