Sharpe bows out on a high

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iol spt dec2 Nathan Sharpe Getty Images Nathan Sharpe brought an end to his glittering 16-year rugby career against Wales on Saturday. Photo by Stu Forster

Cardiff, Wales – It certainly wasn't the way Nathan Sharpe envisaged ending his rugby career.

For the past 16 years, the strapping Australia lock has earned a living by smashing into rucks, leaping high in lineouts and pushing hard in the middle of scrums.

Lining up kicks from the touchline has never been on his to-do list. But there he was in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 30 meters out and attempting a conversion with his last competitive touch of rugby ball.

His kick failed to reach the posts - one of the few times Sharpe has come up short in a Wallaby jersey.

“Of course I'm going to miss it - it's what I've done since I can remember,” an emotional Sharpe said as he assessed his long, distinguished career after the 14-12 victory over Wales.

“I am going to have to find some walls to run into every weekend, just to get my head around things, ease my way out of it.”

Sharpe's debut for Australia came in a match against France in 2002 and he turned out for 115 more tests, making him the Wallabies' second most-capped players after scrumhalf great George Gregan.

With James Horwill, David Pocock and Will Genia all struggling with injury in the second half of 2012, Robbie Deans turned to Sharpe to lead his tired side through its end-of-season European tour.

After scrappy wins over England and Italy, Sharpe summoned up one last big match against Wales in which Kurtley Beale scored a last-minute, match-winning try to provide a fitting send-off for Sharpe.

“What better way of finishing a game for a great man as Nathan, our skipper who is retiring,” Beale said. “We are very relieved and happy for him.”

Naturally, the unassuming Sharpe refused to take any credit.

“It wasn't for me - it was what we've spoken about all year,” he said. “Games go one way and then the other, and if you stick in there you don't know what's going to happen.

“I thought that was pretty consistent with the character the team has shown this year.”

Sharpe entered the national scene at senior level too late to take part in the 2001 series against the British & Irish Lions, and he is bowing out six months before the combined team from the four home unions heads Down Under again.

There will be no backtracking on his decision to retire, no matter how hard it will be.

“The thing I'll probably miss most is being in the team environment, having a collective goal in a pressure-cooker situation each weekend,” he said, close to tears. “As much as you love it, you hate it. There are big highs and low lows. That'll be the most challenging thing for me.”

Sharpe ends his Wallaby career with eight international tries to his name - and one missed conversion.

“It was the first - and I'd say it was the last,” he said. – Sapa-AP

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