Newport Gwent Dragons hooker Tom Willis forced to retire

Tom Willis
Willis made his All Blacks Test debut against Italy in 2002

Newport Gwent Dragons' former captain Tom Willis has been forced to retire due to a hand injury.

The former New Zealand hooker sustained the injury during his side's Pro12 defeat in Treviso earlier this season.

Willis joined the Dragons in 2008 and skippered the side for three seasons.

"Regrettably I have been advised that a successful return to the pitch is unlikely and ultimately could lead to me having significant problems with my hand in the future," he said.

"I have had a great time whilst with the Dragons and will always cherish memories of typical Newport Friday nights, fantastic Rodney Parade crowds and playing alongside a great bunch of guys.

"I'm very grateful and proud for the opportunity to be a Dragon and the support which everyone at the Dragons, and our regional fans have shown me over the past four years."

Dunedin-born Willis began his career with Otago in 1999 and gained Super Rugby experience with the Highlanders.

After joining Waikato in 2004 he led the province to the Air New Zealand Cup championship two years later and also played Super Rugby for the Chiefs.

He was capped five times by New Zealand but injuries disrupted his international career.

After leaving New Zealand, Willis was Dragons skipper for three seasons before he was succeeded by Wales lock Luke Charteris ar the start of the present campaign.

But injuries have hampered the 32-year-old's career during recent seasons and he was ruled out for the season last February when he suffered a thumb injury.

Dragons head coach Darren Edwards has hailed the contribution of Willis during his time at Rodney Parade.

"We are really disappointed for Tom," said Edwards.

"His contribution to Rodney Parade should not be underestimated. He had been a key figure in changing the mindset and attitude of the team whilst helping our squad raise their ambitions.

"He has demonstrated an extraordinary work ethic and strong leadership at Rodney Parade and I have to say he is probably the most stand-up player I have ever worked with."

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