But I was petrified by retirement. It was my decision and I wondered if it was the right one, especially because my coaches were telling me I still had another season in me. I also loved playing for Wales and everything that came with it, from the camaraderie of team mates to the support of a nation behind you. People were relying on me, so I felt important. Yet I’d be going into a different world where I was completely inexperienced. In the end, Wales won another Six Nations title the year after I retired, but I’m happy now with the decision – I wouldn’t have had that send-off against Australia otherwise.
The transition took a long time. I started off thinking I’m not important anymore – Wales had moved onto younger players, so I felt obsolete. You don’t have to be an ex-rugby player to feel this – I know people from military backgrounds, for example, who experience this. It was a while before I realised I still had people that cared about me. I looked at older players who had retired before me and saw how important they still were in my eyes. Eventually I could see I was still the same person. My mates were crucial to that, so was my family – and so was the old lady in Tesco who came up to me and told me I meant something to her.
I felt lonely at times. I’m a quiet person and I like being on my own by choice. But sometimes I’d sit there and just miss rugby. It was tough knowing I wasn’t going to score another try in the corner or hear the crowd screaming my name again. Finding new ways to enjoy my life helped me get over this. Working as a pundit now, I’m still around the game, so I get to catch up with old friends, and that means a lot.
I’ve also started some businesses. With three of my old team mates, we’ve launched a coffee company, FabFour, and now we’ve got Perthyn going. It’s a low-alcohol gin from the Cardiff Distillery. The Welsh Rugby Union is trying to encourage sensible drinking at matches anyway, so we’re working with them to build something.