Ireland's Jamie Heaslip has announced his retirement to protect long-term health. Photo: Neil Munns/EPA

LONDON – Former Ireland rugby captain Jamie Heaslip announced his immediate retirement on Monday, explaining he wished to protect his “future well-being” after a long-standing back injury.

Heaslip won 95 caps in all and captained his country on 13 occasions, helping Ireland to win three Six Nations titles in 2009, 2014 and 2015.

But he hasn't played since injuring his back in the warm-up to last year's Six Nations clash with England.

“Every professional sportsperson always hopes to be able to leave their chosen sport on their terms but too often that's not the case,” Heaslip said in a statement posted on his social media channels.

“I have taken the difficult decision to retire with immediate effect from playing rugby in order to ensure my future well-being.”

Heaslip, 34, also won three Heineken Cups and three Pro12 titles at club level in a decorated career with Leinster.

“Sad to see injury forcing @jamieheaslip into early retirement,” tweeted former Ireland captain and a team-mate of Heaslip at club and international Brian O'Driscoll. “A terrific professional and incredibly savvy player that you could only fully appreciate as a team mate.”

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who also managed Heaslip at Leinster, paid tribute to the number eight.

“Jamie was an intelligent and incredibly robust player,” said Schmidt in a statement released by the IRFU. “Utterly professional, driven to succeed and a leader with the actions he delivered.”

Heaslip played every game in two World Cups as Ireland reached the quarter-finals in 2011 and 2015, and as Ireland beat New Zealand for the first time in their history in 2016.

He was also selected for two tours with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and 2013.