Ibanez ends Test career to give France's young talent a chance

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The Independent Online

It is becoming fashionable. A week after Lawrence Dallaglio announced his retirement from international rugby, Raphaël Ibañez, another senior figure at Wasps, was heading reluctantly towards Sunset Boulevard.

In his home town of Dax, Ibañez, who captained France in the last World Cup, said he was leaving Test rugby with immediate effect, a decision influenced by the new coach of France, Marc Lièvremont. It has left Ibañez, the world's most capped hooker, on 98 caps.

"Marc and I have a good relationship and we had an open and honest discussion of his plans," Ibañez said. "He wants to bring in new young faces. I like to think I still have enough good rugby inside me to have played again for France and reach 100 caps.

"That would have been nice but the coaches have to think of the bigger picture. I'll have to rely on my two young sons to collect those remaining caps for team Ibañez."

Ibañez, who will be 35 next month, played in three World Cups, two of them as captain. Like Dallaglio he is retiring for the second time after quitting following the 2003 World Cup. He joined Saracens and then Wasps and returned to Test rugby in 2005. He won his first cap against Wales in 1996, his last in the third place play-off match against Argentina in the World Cup when he received a yellow card and did not reappear.

Unlike Dallaglio, who will also finish with club rugby at the end of the season, Ibañez said his future was "all about Wasps". He is negotiating to extend his contract, which expires this year, and may join the coaching staff. Ian McGeechan, the Wasps' director of rugby, said: "The fact that Raphaël is the world's most capped hooker reflects his commitment and durability."

Warren Gatland, the new Wales head coach, has warned that players who pursue club careers outside Wales will put their international futures at risk. The approach is similar to Gatland's native New Zealand, who do not consider overseas-based players.

The policy states: "The location of any Welsh qualified player who in the future contracts to play for a team outside Wales will be taken into account in future. If that location is inconsistent with the need to be available for regular or continuous training, or the need to safeguard playing development and care, it will count against the player's selection."