Ireland forward Victor Costello today announced he will retire from competitive rugby at the end of the season.

The 34-year-old, who has not featured in the current RBS 6 Nations Championship campaign, made his international debut against the USA in 1996 and went on to win 39 caps for his country.

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan said: “Victor Costello has enjoyed an incredible sporting career of which rugby has played a huge part.”

“He was one of the most talented athletes in world rugby and played a big part in the recent success of the national team, none more so than in the Rugby World Cup in 2003. I wish him every success in his future career plans.”

Costello, who also represented Ireland in the shot-putt at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, has not started a match for Ireland since the 43-21 defeat by France in the 2003 World Cup quarter-final.

The powerful back row was a used substitute during last season's RBS 6 Nations, when Ireland won the Triple Crown, but a broken rib prevented him from playing any part in the November internationals.

Eric Miller, Johnny O'Connor and Denis Leamy have all leaped ahead of Costello in the back row pecking order since, freezing Costello out of Eddie O'Sullivan's Test plans.

Costello said: "I've been thinking about when to retire for the last six months. I've been involved in competitive sport for the past 20 years and decided I wanted to leave at the top without any bad memories.

"I could have continued for another year but that would not have been fair on myself or the Leinster management because I can't give rugby the time it needs. I didn't want to play another season for the sake of it.

"There are lot of things I want to do and places I want to see without having a rugby bag over my shoulder. I will miss Leinster but it's better that we miss each other than hanging around and being forced to leave.

"It's heartbreaking but I'm proud of making this decision because it means I'm embracing my retirement, not running away from it like so many professional sportsmen tend to do."