Harlequins legend Mark Lambert admitted his career had exceeded all expectations, after announcing his retirement from rugby union following 16 years with the south-west London club.

Having made his starting debut against Gloucester in 2004, the 35-year-old’s early career was dogged with injuries and he only played seven first team games in his first five years as a professional.

After spending almost a year out of the game from March 2005 as a result of a dissected anterior cerebral artery in his brain, and then being sidelined for two further seasons due to a knee injury, the powerful forward would go on to score six tries in 251 appearances for Quins.

Lambert would play a key role as the Twickenham-based side won silverware in three successive seasons - lifting the 2010/11 Amlin Challenge Cup, 2011/12 Aviva Premiership and 2012/13 LV Cup trophies - and he was capped for England at U19, U21 and Saxons level.

Upon his departure from the game - which he leaves as the longest-serving Harlequins player in the professional era - he expressed pride at what he managed to achieve in the game after such a rocky start.

“I have been on borrowed time in the game since I was 20 and I have made it to 35,” he said. “Facing retirement at a young age gave me an appreciation that this had to end one day and as a result, I have done my best to make the most of the experiences that have come my way.

“I’ve worn the shirt hundreds of times and every time, even the games on a Monday night that I didn’t want to play, when I pulled it on I looked at the badge and realised it was a privilege.

“I have never been more nervous in my life than I was before my debut and I have never felt worse in my life than the day I was told my career was over in 2005. That is what playing for this club has meant to me.

“There is something incredibly special about the shared experiences rugby gives you. I am a lucky man but I am really going to miss it.”

Despite stepping away from the playing arena, Lambert will remain involved in rugby in his post as Rugby Players Association chairman.

Lambert is the third Quins player to retire this month, following hookers Rob Buchanan and Max Crumpton, and head of rugby Paul Gustard admitted his influence will be missed in the dressing room.

He said: “He has been a true club man who has given his all on and off the field. His presence will leave a hole in the group that will leave not only an emotional space to be filled, but also quite a sizeable physical one.

“For such a big man he had a big engine and probably an underrated ball-playing ability. He was a bright and articulate player who understood the game innately and contributed to debate and discussion on any aspect of the game, not solely his specialist area up front.”