Wales international Lloyd Burns is facing the possibility of heart surgery after being forced to retire from rugby. forced
The 27-year-old hooker was a World Cup squad member in New Zealand last autumn and won seven caps, four of them during that tournament.
The Newport Gwent Dragons forward has been sidelined since January due to a neck injury that forced him out of this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship, when Wales won their second title and Grand Slam of coach Warren Gatland's four-year reign.
But the Dragons revealed today that "ongoing tests" from the neck problem have shown aorta damage, resulting in immediate retirement, with possible heart surgery to follow.
The aorta is the body's largest artery.
Dragons rugby director Robert Beale said: "Everything Lloyd has achieved in life he has earned through hard work and dedication.
"His enforced retirement from the game has come as a massive shock to Lloyd and his family and will resonate throughout the rugby world.
"I am personally relieved that this serious condition has been identified off the field of play.
"I would therefore like to thank our medical team at the Dragons, staff at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport and University of Wales, Cardiff for all their efforts in ensuring Lloyd has, and will continue to receive, the highest standards of care."
Some of Burns' Wales colleagues paid tribute to him on Twitter, including captain Sam Warburton.
Warburton said: "Terrible news, great player and guy, hope recovery goes well."
Centre Jamie Roberts, who is currently recovering from knee surgery, tweeted: "Sad news about Lloyd Burns' retirement from rugby....great player, good bloke....here's to a speedy recovery."
And Burns' Wales and Dragons team-mate Dan Lydiate tweeted: "Absolutely gutted for my mate Lloyd Burns forced to retire top player but more importantly top bloke."
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, meanwhile, said: "Absolutely gutted to hear the sad news Lloyd Burns forced to retire. Great player and a fantastic bloke."
Burns made his Wales debut against the Barbarians in Cardiff last June, going on as a second-half replacement for Huw Bennett.
At the time, he was dual-registered with the Dragons and this season's British and Irish Cup finalists Cross Keys.
He also played in two World Cup warm-up Tests last August, then went to the tournament itself as one of three hookers in Gatland's squad, featuring alongside Bennett and Ken Owens.
Burns worked as a bricklayer before moving full-time into rugby and enjoying a rapid rise to Test recognition.
He started the 81-7 World Cup victory over Namibia in New Plymouth and appeared as a replacement in the pool games against Samoa and Fiji either side of that fixture, scoring a try when Fiji were routed 66-0.
What proved to be his final cap came in the bronze medal match against Australia in Auckland, a game that Wales lost 21-18.
He was subsequently advised to take a minimum three-month break from rugby after a neck problem surfaced, which ended his Six Nations hopes this season.
Bennett, Ken Owens and former Wales captain Matthew Rees, who missed the entire World Cup because of a neck complaint, were Gatland's Six Nations hookers.
- More about:
- Mark Tucker
- Six Nations Rugby