Real Madrid and Wales footballer Bale attended Whitchurch High School in Cardiff in the same year as Warburton, playing in the same football team.
Bale wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations on an incredible career mate. Good luck for everything in the future @samwarburton_ #welshlegend.”
Warburton’s retirement was announced on the day another Whitchurch old boy, Geraint Thomas, claimed the yellow jersey and victory in stage 11 of the Tour de France.
Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton has not played since the Lions’ drawn series with New Zealand in June 2017 and has opted to quit following neck and knee operations last year. He captained Wales on 49 occasions and the Lions five times.
Tributes poured in on Twitter from the rugby world, from Warburton’s teams and team-mates, rivals and opposition teams.
The British and Irish Lions tweeted: “A leader on the pitch, a gentleman off it. Thank You @samwarburton_ for the incredible memories.”
Wales centre Scott Williams wrote: “Devastated with the news @samwarburton_ absolute legend of the game and unbelievable career. Proud to have played under you! Half decent bloke too.”
Former Wales and Lions back James Hook said: “Congratulations Warby! A barnstorming career to be proud of pal. Pleasure to take the field with you @samwarburton_.”
Mike Phillips, another former team-mate of Warburton’s with Wales and the Lions, tweeted: “Fantastic career mate, great player, captain and nice guy! Best of luck.”
Fantastic career mate, great player, captain and nice guy! Best of luck 💪🏻 @samwarburton_— Mike Phillips (@mikephillips009) July 18, 2018
Italy captain Sergio Parisse wrote: “What a fantastic career @samwarburton_ It was a pleasure to play against you #welshlegend.”
Former Wales forward Scott Quinnell, now a television pundit, added his tribute.
“Congratulations @samwarburton_ on a fantastic career. You will not find a better ambassador for our great game on and off the pitch. Good luck for the next chapter,” Quinnell said.
Bill Beaumont, the head of World rugby, wrote: “Saddened to hear of @samwarburton_ ‘s retirement.
“Sam was an outstanding player, inspirational @WelshrugbyUnion & @lionsofficial captain, a super ambassador for the sport & above all a fantastic person.
“He will be successful in whatever he chooses to do next.”
Referee Nigel Owens wrote on Twitter: “One of the modern greats of rugby. But more importantly a genuine great man. One of Wales greatest Ambassadors on and off the field. Best wishes for the future. Pob lwc @samwarburton_ @WelshrugbyUnion.”
Warburton is a supporter of Tottenham, the team Bale left in a then world record transfer to Real.
Spurs wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations on a fantastic career, @samwarburton_. Enjoy your retirement. #COYS”
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