Aussie Sevens veteran James Stannard didn't have the luxury of retiring on his own terms, but the selfless attitude that characterised his playing career ultimately sealed his fate.
Stannard, who was planning to retire at the end of this season, was forced to hang up his boots a month early, still suffering after a coward punch in March left him with a fractured skull.
The 34-year-old had been striving for a comeback in July’s World Cup, a tournament that would have doubled as a swan song, but lingering symptoms meant he had to put his health first.
It was a decision that typified Stannard’s team-first attitude, that has made him one of the most revered Australian Sevens players in history.
“I was doing a bit of training, trying to get back for World Cup and the boys were away at the time and I started doing a bit of contact and upping the ante and just started getting a bit light-headed and a few headaches,” he said.
“I just thought at that time if I can't get through this sort of training, there's no way in hell I'm going to get through a tournament and the last thing I want to do is let those lads down.
“It's a pretty easy decision when it's your health.
“It is hard to accept that's the last time you'll slip that jersey on, which I think most players go through, most professional athletes go through, so I think it was an easy decision when it came down to my health that, that was it.”
There was nothing showy about his announcement, Stannard sending a text to men’s coach Tim Walsh simply saying, ‘Maybe we’ll need to have a talk’.
He addressed his teammates when they came back to Australia, admitting he could barely get the words out, and then the squad shared some farewell beers, and then posted to Instagram to make a public announcement, flooded with congratulations messages from fans and friends alike.
That Stannard won’t be able to call time on his own terms is doubly frustrating, but the playmaker said he wasn’t dwelling on the situation.
“I haven't really thought about it too much, to be honest, i just worry about trying to get on the field after the incident and now just being around the lads and supporting them for this upcoming world cup,” he said.
Walsh, who took over the men’s reins more than a month after Stannard’s injuries, said it was disappointing that Stannard’s career was ended this way.
“It's not a nice situation at all and unnecessary, that's the most disappointing thing,” he said.
“It wasn't like he was injured on the field training or something, it was taken out of his hands.
“I obviously wasn't in the position or even there around it, but everyone's disappointed but I'm sure he's mentally strong and he can move on from that and continue on with his life in the best way he knows how.”
Walsh was part of the Sevens squad when Stannard made his debut and said he always had an innate competitiveness, that has only grown
“He was asking heaps and heaps of questions, a student of the game and someone who wanted to win,” he said.
“You could see it from a very early stage and that's a pretty innate asset of someone to have.
“He's certainly, as you grow as an athlete, you grow demanding, I won't say less tolerant, but in a way it is, but demanding of other people to bring them up to the level that they need to be to be the best. He matured into a great player but a really good role model and leader.
Walsh has dubbed that maturity the ‘Chucky factor’, an intangible quality in some ways, that translated into passion and dedication on the field, and an intrinsic association with the Sevens program.
“He plays to win and his emotions take over and I think that's the real fighting Aussie spirit that Chucky always brought,” he said.
“He's going to be sorely missed and within this team that Chucky factor needs to be (there), not be him, but the only way you're going to be a real competitive force is to have that ruthlessness and that innate desire to win.
“It's generally always the small blokes who are forced to do it but that's the legacy I would like Chucky to leave in this Sevens team would certainly be around that.”
Stannard will likely stay around the squad in the coming months, and has already looked at going into the coaching realm.
The Aussie Sevens compete in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July in San Francisco, kicking off on July 21.