Simon Danielli’s rugby career is over.
Nine days ahead of the Heineken Cup final against Leinster at Twickenham, Ulster’s 32-year-old Scottish international wing announced his retirement, finally conceding defeat to the back injury which has made 2011/12 a thoroughly frustrating and largely miserable experience for the former Oxford ‘blue’.
A significant by-product of his departure is that it frees up a place for another possible non-Irish-qualified star, for by dint of being Edinburgh-born and Scotland-capped, Danielli has been one of Ulster’s five ‘overseas players’.
His retirement, in tandem with Pedrie Wannenburg’s departure for France, means Ulster’s foreign legion is now only three-strong — South Africans Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar plus New Zealander John Afoa.
Afoa’s fellow Kiwi Jared Payne is a ‘project player’, for never having been capped as an All Black he may yet — through residency — qualify for Ireland.
After graduating from Oxford where he studied Philosophy and Theology, Cheltenham College-educated Danielli signed for Bristol, playing one match for them before switching to Bath.
Between 2001 and 2004 he made 41 league appearances for The Rec club — 39 of them as a starter — and scored eight Premiership tries.
The first of 32 international caps came in August 2003, with his performance against Italy in a World Cup warm-up match at Murrayfield persuading the Scots to include him in their squad for Australia.
His last appearance for Scotland was against England at Auckland in the 2011 World Cup.
In total he scored eight international tries, five of them in World Cups.
Danielli joined Ulster from The Borders in the summer of 2007, going on to win 78 caps and score 26 tries.
But he made only seven Ulster appearances this season, all but two of them before Christmas.
His most recent outing was against Ospreys on February 24 when he entered the fray from the bench for the final 10 minutes.
Speaking just before last night’s Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards Dinner at the Culloden Hotel, Danielli said: “Having been advised that I am no longer able to achieve the level of fitness required to play professional rugby, it is with great sadness that I announce my retirement from the game.
“I feel privileged to have been playing for over a decade and have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a professional rugby player, particularly my last five years here at Ulster.
“I would like to thank everyone who has helped me throughout my time here, to all the players, coaches, other members of staff — and not least the fantastic supporters at Ulster who rival (those) anywhere else in Europe, creating an atmosphere that has given me many special lifelong memories.
“I wish the boys the very best of luck for the biggest of games next week and long into the future. The club is well on the path to becoming a leading force in European rugby and I will be in the stands cheering them towards this for years to come,” he promised.