Heart abnormality forces Mears into early retirement

England's celebratory mood after the hard-won Six Nations victory in Dublin was tempered yesterday when one of the most durable red-rose forwards of recent years, the Bath hooker Lee Mears, announced his retirement at 33 on medical grounds. Mears was advised by doctors to call it a day after routine cardiac screening revealed a heart abnormality that might have worsened under the demands of professional rugby.

"This is not how I saw it ending and it will be a tough period, but the memories I have and the friends I have made over the years will be a huge support," said the Devonian, who made almost 300 appearances for the West Country club, won 42 caps for England, played Test rugby for the Lions in South Africa four years ago and was among the more accomplished front-row technicians of the era – a scrupulously fair-minded player blessed with considerable footballing intelligence and a sound temperament, as well as unusual physical strength.

Gary Gold, the former Springbok coach at Bath since last summer, described the front-rower as a "legend", adding: "He will be missed, but the only thing that matters is he's healthy. If that means he stops playing, that's the way it has to be."

London Welsh, meanwhile, have armed themselves for their fight against Premiership relegation by signing the immensely powerful Argentina back-five forward Julio Farias Cabello. The man from the up-country badlands of Tucuman is hardly a spring chicken at 34, but as a late developer, he has a good deal of rugby left in him.

"We have eight games to go and need as much squad depth as possible," said coach Lyn Jones. "Julio will add a great deal to our final push."

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