Mears retires from rugby
Former England hooker Lee Mears has been forced to retire with immediate effect due to a heart condition, his club Bath have announced.
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An abnormality known to occur in some athletes was discovered during a cardiac screening completed by the 33-year-old Bath front row, who announced his international retirement last year.
"There is a significant potential risk of developing further complications if Lee continues to perform the prolonged strenuous exercises required to be an elite rugby player," read a statement issued by Bath.
"He has therefore been advised by a specialist to retire from professional rugby."
Mears won 42 caps for England in a seven-year international career that began against Samoa in 2005 and ended as a replacement on last summer's tour to South Africa.
The Devonian participated in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups and was also capped in the opening Test of the Lions' 2009 series against the Springboks.
Bath have been his only club since his professional career began in 1998, making 268 appearances for the Recreation Ground outfit.
"This is not how I saw it ending but I feel enormously proud to have played for Bath so many times," Mears said.
"This will be a tough period, but the memories I have and the friends I have made over the years will be of huge support. Thank you to the club and to the supporters, I've loved every minute."
Bath head coach Gary Gold stressed that Mears was left with no option but to retire.
"Lee is a legend, pure and simple. His retirement will be felt by all of us at Bath and also by the supporters who have cheered him on over the years," Gold said.
"The only thing that matters is to be healthy and if that means he stops playing, then that's the way it has to be.
"He will be missed, but we will always welcome him back with open arms. This is his club, and it always will be. We send him off with real affection and gratitude."
Within the last six years there have been several instances in British and Irish rugby of heart-related conditions causing retirement, all among the front row.
The career of Wales and Scarlets prop Rhys Thomas ended after he underwent heart surgery in January 2012, while his international team-mate and hooker Lloyd Burns retired in April of the same year with a neck injury and damaged aorta.
Ireland prop Simon Best was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat during the 2007 World Cup and was forced to hang up his boots a year later.
Munster prop Marcus Horan, however, was able to continue playing despite undergoing minor heart surgery in 2009.