Chris Pennell’s glittering playing career with Worcester Warriors will come to an end at the end of this season after 253 appearances in a career which began with a Premiership debut against Bath in 2007.
Pennell, 34, was capped by England on their summer tour of New Zealand in 2014 and will bow out at Sixways with 426 points, including 43 tries, to his name.
The cancellation of Saturday’s final Gallagher Premiership match of the season against Gloucester Rugby due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Gloucester camp, has denied Pennell the opportunity to make a farewell appearance at Sixways but the full-back will depart with many fond memories of his time at the club.
“I am incredibly proud of my time with the club, and I feel very fortunate to have been doing what I have been doing with Worcester for so many years,” he said.
“It’s a really exciting time for the club with all the changes that have been made and I hope the success we all desire will be just around the corner.
“It will be nice to watch that success off the field and try to return some of the incredible support that I have had over my playing career and give it to the people that will be taking the club forward now.
“The owners have been really supportive and have told me there will always be a place for me here where I can add value so watch this space.
“The romantic in me thinks it would be nice to finish my playing career at Sixways but it’s also exciting for me to explore other opportunities. It has been a good number of years since there was any consideration of playing for another team and with my body but, more importantly, my head in a really good place, now is the time to move on.
“It’s an exciting time for Worcester but I am also looking forward to some new challenges and experiences as well.”
During his time with Warriors Pennell has become a fans’ favourite and a great ambassador for the club which was rewarded with a Testimonial in 2018/19.
“I genuinely feel really humbled by the amount of support that I personally have had over the years. There are a number of supporters I have got to know well and also many of our sponsors, particularly through the Testimonial season,” said Pennell.
“I have been really fortunate to have conversations and see first-hand the amount of passion within our community that has always matched my own and sometimes even exceeded.
“The level of support at Worcester is phenomenal and there are so many memories that I have over the years of the atmosphere they have created and some of those tight games that we have won is solely down to them.
“I am so grateful to the support I have been given – those people in the stands and those I bump into in the city who wish you well – which has made my memories of Worcester so special.”
In addition to Warriors supporters, Pennell is indebted to the support of his family throughout his career which began in the mini section at Bredon Star and continued at Portadown in Northern Ireland before his arrival at Sixways.
“My wife, Jo, and the kids have been unbelievable. When you are in professional sport there are times when you have to be selfish and that is not always easy with a young family,” he said.
“Jo has picked up an awful lot of the slack, but you try to make up for it when you are at home by being as good natured and engaged as possible.
“I feel fortunate that the kids are at an age that they will have memories of coming to Sixways to see me play which is something that as a younger man I wanted them to be able to do.
“I have also been fortunate to have been so well supported by my wider family, my Mum in particular, my brothers and aunts and uncles – who message me wishing me good luck and who check out the results.”
Pennell will forever be remembered by Warriors supporters for his man-of-the-match performance in the dramatic Championship final second leg victory over Bristol Rugby in May 2015, which is also among his own treasured memories.
“The obvious highlight is the Bristol promotion match but in amongst that you have got Bristol at home a couple of seasons ago when we won by 50, Exeter away when we won 6-5 and earlier on in my career some of the European trips when we got to the knockout stages stand out,” he said.
“There are almost too many to recount them all. It’s not just the matches at weekends, it’s everything that goes into it and the time you spend with people, be it players, staff, commercial team and the Foundation. Everyone is working hard to make the club a success and it’s the time and effort they are putting in and the interactions you have with them that really matter.
“Although my playing career is moving away from Worcester, Worcester is still my home, and I will maintain many of those friendships for life.
“I will be continuing in my role as a trustee of the Warriors Community Foundation which is something very close to my heart.”
Warriors Head Coach Jonathan Thomas played alongside Pennell in the 2015 Championship final and believes that his departure marks the end of an era.
“I played with Pens when I first came here. He’s an awesome person, an awesome friend and everyone knows what a loyal servant he has been over a long period of time and a consistent performer,” said Thomas.
“He has been through some real adversity in his life on and off the field. What has really impressed me is how consistent and measured he is as a person which massively helps those around him.
“He has always had very high standards as a professional and that is why he has been so consistent on the field.
“I have no doubt that he will be a success in whatever he does because he is a class act as a bloke and the way he carries himself.
“I am sad it’s the end of an era because he is a special man. The club will not feel the same without him around as a player because it feels like he has been Worcester.”
Thomas’ sentiments are echoed by Warriors Director of Rugby Alan Solomons.
“Pens is one of the club legends. Worcester is his home, and it was terrific to see him get his 250th ‘cap’ for Warriors this season,” he said.
“To make 250 appearances for one club is an incredible achievement and speaks volumes about the man.
“Pens is one of a kind and we have been blessed to have him spend his entire career to date here at the club. His contribution has been immense.
“We wish him all the best for the future and hope to see him often here at Sixways.”