LONDON Welsh hooker Andy Titterrell said his decision to retire was “gut- wrenching”.

The former England and British & Irish Lions player announced yesterday that he was quitting rugby with immediate effect due to a neck injury.

Titterrell, 33, made a big impact at Welsh after joining the club last summer, but was forced to retire on medical advice.

“It is absolutely devastating that my career has ended as a player in these circumstances,” he said. “It’s utterly gut-wrenching.

“I hope to move forward now and make the transition into a specialist skills and strength and conditioning coach, so that I can pass my understanding and expertise onto other professional players within the game that I am so passionate about.

“I’d like to thank all those who have supported me over my playing career, especially my parents, my wife and Gareth Delve – for them I am truly grateful.”

Titterrell, who won five England caps and toured New Zealand with the Lions in 2005, has combined playing this season with studying for a Masters degree in strength and conditioning at St Mary’s College, Twickenham.

Having previously appeared for Sale, Gloucester, Leeds and Edinburgh, Titterrell last played for Welsh in their victory over Bristol at the Kassam Stadium in November.

The news of his retirement prompted many to pay tribute to a consummate professional.

“I’m humbled to have so many kind words spoken about me,” Titterell tweeted.

“Thank u to everyone who has messaged me & been a part of my career”.

Exiles assistant coach, Gordon Ross, said: “The effect he had on the pitch was huge.

“He is quite a quiet man, but when he spoke, everyone listened in.

“The biggest thing we’ll miss about him are his performances on the pitch.”

Head coach Justin Burnell said: “Andy is one of the most professional players I’ve ever worked with.

“His attitude and contribution to the environment at London Welsh, both on and off the field, has been amazing.

“It’s a massive blow to us to lose Andy. His defensive qualities were fantastic – he topped the tackle count every single week.

“You won’t find a better role model or ambassador for a professional rugby player than Andy Titterrell. “He was the ultimate professional and a true gentleman.”