Leicester Tigers have been dealt a colossal blow in their preparations for next season following the news that former club vice-captain Anthony Allen has been forced to retire from professional rugby with a knee injury.
The inside centre has been plagued by injuries and has not been able to overcome this latest one forcing him to hang up his boots at just 28.
His retirement is a devastating loss to Leicester’s backline who looked a shadow to themselves without him for much of last season.
During his carer Allen was one of the most underrated players in the Aviva Premiership.
He earned just two England caps back in 2006 when he was playing for Gloucester, for whom he made 90 appearances.
For the next decade England searched for the perfect midfield pairing, never quite finding the right combination. They could have done a lot worse than call on Allen, who despite his diminutive frame, was a line breaking attacker and defensive linchpin.
He was a highly intelligent rugby player, running beautiful attacking lines and reading the opposition’s offensive patterns perfectly to shut down their attacks.
More importantly he made the players around him better which is why he was adored by Tigers fans after moving to the club in 2009.
He trained with the England squad several times during his career with Tigers but never played for the senior national side again. For Leicester Allen made 124 first-team appearances in six seasons.
In an era of success for the club he played in four Premiership Finals, including the club’s title-winning seasons in 2010 and 2013, playing pivotal roles in them.
In 2012 he scored a try in the final in Leicester’s losing effort against Harlequins and in 2012 he was Man of the Match in their win over Northampton Saints.
However during his time with Leicester he suffered some serious injuries which kept him out of action for long spells.
In the 2014/15 season just gone he made just 11 appearances, his last in the league at Harlequins in January.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill was full of praise for Allen.
He said: “Anthony has been a great success as a Leicester player, becoming one of the most consistent and influential players in the Aviva Premiership during his six seasons with the club.
“He has always been appreciated by team-mates and coaches here for his work at the core of the team, as well as for his individual ability. He has also played a big role in helping the development of young players like Manu Tuilagi and Owen Williams alongside him in the backline.
“It is extremely disappointing for him and for the club that he has been advised to retire from playing at such a young age and at the peak of his career. Anthony has an excellent understanding of the game and we hope to be able to use that knowledge within the club in the future.”
Allen said: “It is very disappointing for any professional when they realise they have reached the end of their playing career and I obviously did not expect to play my last game at such a young age. But it is something I have had to come to terms with after rehabbing a knee problem for much of last season.
“I’ve played alongside and against so many great players, I played in five Premiership Finals with Gloucester and Leicester, played for my country and have shared in many massive occasions in 10 years as a player.
“I’d like to thank the Tigers for their support throughout this process and also thank my family and friends for all their support throughout my career, through the good times and bad.
“Last but not least, all the supporters at both Gloucester and Leicester Tigers have always been amazing to me and I will hugely miss running out on to the pitch every weekend.”
Leicester must now go back to the drawing board as incoming head coach Aaron Mauger, an early retiree and centre himself, will have to fill a massive void.
There has been much talk of a marquee player coming into the club either at centre of full back, you would have to imagine with Allen’s retirement that recruitment process has just moved up through the gears.
In other news Tigers have added one more player to their ranks this week with the signing of Newcastle Falcons second row Dom Barrow.
Cockerill believes the 22-year-old has the potential to be a club great and he certainly comes with an impressive CV. He was the former captain of England Under-16s and Under-18s, and a World Junior Championship winner with England Under-20s in 2013.
In some more good news for fans worrying about the loss of world class openside flanker Julian Salvi to Exeter, his replacement next season has had an impressive year in Super 15 rugby.
Brendon O’Connor has won the Auckland Blues Players’ Player of the Year accolade at the club’s end-of-season awards.
The 25-year-old made 148 tackles, 104 carries and 15 turnovers in 15 games, albeit in a year when the Blues struggled.
Also Academy flanker Will Owen has been impressive for England U20s at the Junior World Championships, where England reached the final before being defeated 21-16 by the All Blacks.