FOR all Wales’ back row riches, their World Cup hopes have received a blow now that they can’t call on Sam Warburton.

The Cardiff Blues flanker had a battle on his hands for a starting spot in Warren Gatland’s side but the 29-year-old would have always been in my XV – Warburton and Taulupe Faletau in the back row with AN Other.

Warburton had it all: strong with ball in hand, ridiculously strong over the ball, quick, brilliant at decision-making under pressure, a machine with absurd fitness levels, capable of match-turning moments yet also a team player that brought the best out of others, adaptable, superb in dealing with the officials whether as captain or one of the other 14.

He will be experiencing a mixture of a tinge of regret at having to hang the boots up early and contentment at a remarkable career of Grand Slams, titles, a European Challenge Cup and Lions glory that ultimately broke his body (only for sport, thankfully).

Warburton, friendly, accommodating and a wonderful ambassador for rugby and Wales, is an all-time great bracketed with past legends and such a calming and quality presence will be missed.

Gatland isn’t short of openside and blindside options in the build-up for Japan 2019 and there would have been some predictable wailing when he turned to the man he trusts completely ahead of flashier flankers.

But if Wales go deep in the tournament and mix it with the big Test beasts in knockout rugby, then Warburton will be missed in those crunch moments.

The challenge of all Test players is to leave the jersey in a better place.

Warburton has done that with both 6 and 7 on his back, setting the standards that Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Ollie Griffiths and Aaron Wainwright aspire to.