Ken Owens: Scarlets, Wales and Lions hooker retires aged 37

Home » Ken Owens: Scarlets, Wales and Lions hooker retires aged 37

Wales’ most capped hooker and oldest captain Ken Owens has retired, aged 37.

Owens played 91 internationals for Wales and five Tests for the British and Irish Lions on two tours.

He won four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, appeared at three World Cups and won a league title with Scarlets but has been sidelined for almost a year by a back injury.

“Not playing has been challenging but the time is right to follow medical advice and hang up my boots,” he said.

Owens, who made his Wales debut at the 2011 World Cup, made the decision “reluctantly”, having been beset by injuries over recent years.

He battled back from serious neck and back issues to realise his dream of captaining Wales in the 2023 Six Nations – at the age of 36.

But the last game of that season in April, for Scarlets in the European Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Glasgow, has proved to be his final match due to a long-standing back problem that ruled him out of the 2023 World Cup.

“It might not be the dream ending but my career has been more than I could have dreamt of,” said Owens.

“Had I written the script there would have been one more game for Wales, for the Scarlets and ultimately Carmarthen Athletic. A chance to sign off and thank everyone involved. It was not to be.

“Whilst part of me wishes I could have done more, I am well aware that if you had told me as a kid I would be fortunate enough to experience what I have, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Wales and Lions

Wales has seen a long and illustrious line of senior players retire from Test rugby over the past 12 months, including Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny.

Owens twice reached a World Cup semi-final with Wales and won Grand Slams in 2012 and 2019, as well as Six Nations titles in 2013 and 2021.

He was selected on successive Lions tours, playing two Tests against New Zealand in 2017 and starting all three against South Africa four years later, scoring a try in the final game.

Owens’ final international was as captain against France in Paris in March 2023.

“To have played 91 times for Wales is an honour I can never fully describe,” said Owens.

“To be a Lion, I am lost for words.”

Owens has developed into a senior figure off the field, serving as chair of the Welsh Rugby Players Association.

He was also at the forefront of discussions when Wales’ players threatened to go on strike ahead of the game against England in February 2023 in a contractual row with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

Scarlets

Owens’ domestic professional rugby career has been with one side since joining the Scarlets academy 20 years ago, making his senior debut in 2006 before going on to play 274 matches.

He captained the club for seven years and won the Pro12 league title in 2017.

“My only professional club, the Scarlets, believed in me and I hope my loyalty over 19 years has repaid the faith you showed,” said Owens.

“My club, Carmarthen Athletic, gave me so much. A brilliant introduction to rugby and friends for life. I can never thank the people there adequately.”

Tributes for ‘brilliant ambassador for Wales’

Wales head coach Warren Gatland: “Ken has had an incredible rugby career and been a brilliant ambassador for the game in Wales.

“Ken is an incredibly passionate Welshman. I know it meant a lot to him to play for Wales and you could see that every single time he wore the red jersey.

“He has been a dedicated professional and a great leader, always helping drive standards but also popular with his teammates. It was an easy decision to name him as captain.”

Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel: “Ken is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have worn the Scarlets jersey.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him as a player and a person. He is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, has been a warrior on the field and has always led by example.

“He epitomises all the core values of our great club, a proud west Walian, a family man with his heart firmly in his community.

“If ever the young players at the club wanted a role model for their professional career, they should look to Ken Owens.”

Known affectionately as the “Sheriff of Carmarthen”, Owens became a cult hero for Scarlets and Wales fans.

Owens proudly belting out the Welsh national anthem alongside Alun Wyn Jones was a defining and inspirational image of the successful first Warren Gatland era.

Initially an impact player off the bench, he finished as a candidate for being Wales’ greatest hooker. Certainly the most enduring.

There are the medals and honours for Wales and the Lions that perhaps can only be matched for a hooker by the 1970s legend Bobby Windsor. But there is more than silverware to this modern day Welsh great.

He battled neck and back injuries to thrill Welsh fans with his “Cannonball” style runs, squeezing out every inch of his talent and pushing his body to the limit.

He led both on and off the field. After achieving a lifelong dream by becoming Wales captain in 2023, he was faced with the threat of a players’ strike during that year’s Six Nations.

Few who witnessed it will forget Owens standing alongside WRU boss Nigel Walker in the gloom warning Wales must not return to being a “laughing stock of world rugby”.

A warrior on the field, a statesmen off it. There will only be one Ken Owens.

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