Wallabies centre Pat McCabe counts himself fortunate to be able to walk away from rugby intact after deciding to retire at the age of 26. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Sydney - Wallabies centre Pat McCabe counts himself fortunate to be able to walk away from rugby intact after deciding to retire at the age of 26 in the wake of a third neck fracture in two years.

McCabe confirmed his decision to call time on his rugby career on Thursday after sustaining the injury in Australia's 51-20 Rugby Championship defeat to New Zealand last weekend.

The ACT Brumbies back, who played on the wing in the last two of his 24 Tests, had fought his way back to fitness after the two previous breaks but has now decided to put his long-term well-being ahead of a desire to continue playing.

“It's shattering thinking I'll never play for the Wallabies or the Brumbies again. But it wasn't a particularly hard decision in the end. I realise how fortunate I am,” McCabe told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“When I get out of the neck brace I will have no ongoing issues, I'll live a normal life.

“There are a hell of a lot of people who have it worse than me. Yes, I'm disappointed. But I'm lucky to be able to walk away from the game after three serious injuries intact. It's a blessing.

“I was never the biggest, strongest or fastest in any team I played. I just worked hard and got the most out of my limited potential. I walk away knowing I did the best I possibly could. I wouldn't do anything differently.”

McCabe won his first cap off the bench against Italy on Australia's 2010 November tour and by the time of the 2011 World Cup was a fixture in Robbie Deans's starting line-up as a hard-running inside centre.

On the first game of 2012 November tour of Europe against France, however, he fractured his neck for the first time and was sidelined for several months.

Less than six months into his comeback, though, and he suffered another fracture in the opening Test of the British and Irish Lions series, leading to another lengthy spell on the sidelines.

“He is one of the smartest and most dedicated individuals I have had the pleasure of coaching,” Australia coach Ewen McKenzie said in a statement.

“On the field, Pat made an amazing contribution to rugby at all levels of the game. Pat is truly one of the good men of our game.”

McCabe has combined his rugby career with studies for a law degree and he hopes to find an off-field role to see out the remaining year of his contract with the Brumbies, who he represented 66 times.

While he had his critics because of the direct nature of his play under Deans, McCabe was one of the most widely liked and respected players in Australian rugby - a state of affairs the open letter he issued on Thursday is unlikely to change.

“While my playing career has not ended the way I would have liked, I consider myself extremely fortunate,” he wrote.

“Fortunate to have met and shared experiences with special players and coaches.

“Fortunate to have played against opposition from around the world representing my country and province.

“And fortunate to walk away from the game with life changing friendships and memories.” – Reuters