Tom James will leave Cardiff Blues at the end of the month, drawing a close to a glittering career at Cardiff Arms Park.
The 32-year-old has become synonymous with the number 11 jersey during his 11 seasons with Wales’ Capital Region, in which he has made 163 appearances and established himself as the region’s all-time top try-scorer with 60.
With the full support of Cardiff Blues, James took an extended break from the game to receive treatment for depression during the 2017-18 season but returned to competitive action in January.
However, it has now been mutually agreed that the Wales international will depart the Arms Park with the best wishes of the entire region.
James said: “It’s been a frustrating season for me, and I would’ve liked to have pulled on a Cardiff Blues jersey one last time but I’m very grateful for the times I’ve had.
“The Blues have been unbelievable to me. Throughout my break from the game everyone was so supportive, from teammates and coaches to directors and supporters, but particularly the team doctor Gareth Jones, sports psychologist Dale Thomas and our WRPA representative Phil Davies who have been amazing.
“Cardiff Blues gave me that time off that I needed and stood beside me, and when I came back in, they have really looked after me.
“It was tough coming back in for pre-season following a long break and that also led to lots of little niggles that stunted my progress. That must have been frustrating for the coaches as well, but when you look at how well the other wings have been performing then you can understand.
“But over the last two months I’ve really felt like I am hitting my peak again. I have been pleased with my form in the Premiership and while that is a different level, I feel I stand out.
“I’ll just see what happens now. I will be training hard over the summer and if another professional contract comes up then I will definitely look at it with my family because I’m 100 per cent confident I can still do a job at the top level.
“I really wanted to get back into that Cardiff Blues first team, but it wasn’t to be.”
James burst onto the scene in 2006, was a try-scorer in the EDF Energy Cup final three years later and played throughout the Amlin Challenge Cup-winning campaign of 2010.
He enjoyed a two-season hiatus at Exeter Chiefs before returning to his home region in 2015.
Looking back upon his career, which also included 12 Wales caps, James has an abundance of fond memories and the Arms Park, and its faithful, will always have a place in his heart.
He added: “When I was playing for Merthyr and the Blues offered me the chance to join, it took me about six months to do it. I had no interest in playing at this level, but I am so grateful that I took that leap.
“There are so many great memories – making my debut up in Edinburgh and scoring, winning the EDF, that good run in the Heineken Cup that led to us winning the Challenge Cup in 2010.
“Looking back to that semi-final against Leicester, it was unbelievable. The atmosphere on that day is hard to beat. Sadly, Martyn (Williams) missed the kick, forget my one!
“There were so many highs that day and that try was probably up there with the best I’ve scored for Cardiff Blues but then I missed the kick.
“The team we had back then was amazing. At the time I was just coming onto the scene and didn’t really think anything of it but when you get older and look back, it was unbelievable. “We virtually had three internationals in every position. If they did an all-time Cardiff Blues XV then most of those boys would be in there. It was a pleasure and honour to play with them.
“Then, to have the opportunity to come back to my home region after two years with Exeter was great.
“To play at the Arms Park for four more seasons has been such a privilege and the fans have been awesome throughout. Even during my time off they were so supportive towards me and I was constantly getting messages from them.
“With so many exciting, young, local boys coming through, the future is certainly bright at Cardiff Blues. I’m not sure yet where I will be playing next season but I’m definitely looking forward to coming to the Arms Park as a supporter with my son Teddy.”
Cardiff Blues chief executive Richard Holland has led the tributes to James.
He added: “Tom leaves with the best wishes of everyone at Cardiff Blues and will remain very much part of our extended family. We’re committed to supporting former players and TJ is no different.
“He has been a great servant to Cardiff Blues, who has achieved so much over more than a decade with the region. I don’t think anyone will ever forget that try he scored against Leicester in the Heineken Cup
“Naturally, as a prolific try-scorer he has been a firm fans favourite at the Arms Park and it remains to be seen whether anyone will reach his try-scoring record.
“He will be missed at the Arms Park but we wish Tom and his young family all the best for his next chapter.”