Rugby fans attending the 2019 Sportsman Dinner at Oswestry Rugby Club were in the presence of Welsh sporting royalty on Saturday evening.

Former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton paid a visit to the club as guest of honour at the annual event.

The flanker, who was described as “one of the best in the world” by Wales head coach Warren Gatland, retired in July last year, citing health and wellbeing as the main reasons after a series of injuries.

Warburton said he now relishes the chance to visit grassroots clubs across the country.

“I quite like coming further up north to clubs like this – you get a lot of fans and there’s a lot of good banter,” he said.

“I go back to grassroots clubs quite often now I’ve finished as a player and have a bit more time – it’s great meeting fans up and down the country.

“There’s a lot of Welsh here as well as English so it’s good to hear their perspective on the game last week and how much it means to them, it’s lovely.

“It’s very similar nowadays to when I started out, which is nice. It feels like it’s gone by really quick.

“The way the clubs are and the atmosphere around the clubs is very similar and the way clubs are fundamentally is still the same, which is why I think a lot of rugby guys get on. The environments are very similar.”

A Cardiff-born rugby-mad youngster, Warburton captained his country at under-18s, U19s and U20s before making his senior debut for the senior side in 2009.

An illustrious career saw him feature for the Wales national side more than 70 times.

The 30-year-old admits he enjoyed being on the spectators’ side for the highly-anticipated Six Nations fixture between Wales and England, after being involved in many of the high-pressure games throughout his career.

“It was the first time I’ve watched it in Wales as a fan since 2009 after I was involved in the last four home games,” he said.

“The atmosphere was great.

“It was really nice to be on the spectator side of the game for once and to allow myself to get immersed in the whole build up and pre-match hype.

“When you’re playing, you’re in a bit of a bubble and you don’t really know what’s going on. It was really exciting to really get immersed in what was almost a two-week build-up – and it was clear how highly-anticipated the game was when it finally came around, you could feel it in the stadium.

“Everyone was really anxious to see how the game would go because it was a very tough one to call, no-one really knew how it would go.

“It was a really good game to watch and like I said, to be on the spectators’ side for once was great.”

Warburton gave his take on the Six Nations tournament so far, and admits he thinks his fellow countrymen could go all the way.

He said: “I think Wales have a fantastic chance now looking ahead.

“They’re in the driver’s seat heading into the last two games.

“Obviously, England are very close behind and it looks like they’re definitely going to win their next two games, so there’s still pressure on Wales.

“I think England can still finish on 20 points if they get four bonus point wins so if Wales slip up they’ll be there.”

Warburton posed for pictures throughout the evening as well as giving a speech to more than 250 guests in attendance.

His appearance came a day after a documentary aired on BBC One Wales looking back on the Welshman’s career.

Taking a look back, Warburton spoke of how surreal it feels to have had so many highs in the sport.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” he said.

“I chat to my brother and family about playing for Wales and the Lions and I still have to pinch myself because it feels like it was just yesterday when I was an 18-year-old aspiring to do those things, then all of a sudden, your career’s over.

“It’s been an amazing privilege to do it.

“It’s nice when you come to places like this and you have people saying nice things about you, it’s absolutely surreal to hear those things because I still feel like a young boy from Cardiff.

“Being able to watch it all back and with things like the documentary, it does make me feel really proud and I feel as though I can be quite pleased with what I’ve achieved.”

With many aspiring players starstruck by the opportunity to meet Warburton on the evening, the former-pro gave his take on what players need to reach the highest level.

He said: “If you want to become a top pro, I’ve always said you have to make the game your lifestyle. You can’t just train hard; you’ve got to be diligent in your preparation, training, recovery and nutrition.

“It’s also about the way you conduct yourself as a role model – obviously you can still have a social life and have fun, but to have longevity in the game it has to be your lifestyle.

“It’s not just about the night before when you’re in training for seven hours, it’s what you do around the clock every day – you really have to dedicate yourself and more often than not the guys who get to the top are the guys who have done that – that’d be my advice for any young kids wanting to make it to the top.”

Looking to the future, Warburton added: “If you ask me where I’m going to be in 10 years’ time, I don’t know.

“But I quite like not knowing, you get used to that as a player because your contract is never more than two or three years.

“ I’m doing the punditry at the moment and if I’m still doing that in a few years and still enjoying it then I’ll carry on.

“I’ll always be involved in the game in some capacity.

“I don’t know whether or not I’ll get into coaching just yet – there are four levels, one to four, and I’ve not completed level one yet. It hasn’t quite appealed to me going through another 10 or 20 years stress through coaching.” who knows though, maybe as time goes on, I might become more keen on the idea, but at the moment the broadcasting is pretty good.”