WITH both codes of rugby competing for attention at the moment, this weekend it’s the turn of England to play Australia in the 15-man version, 10 years on from THAT game in Sydney. And, by way of a warm-up on Thursday, many of those who a decade ago were fitter, slimmer and with rather more hair will attempt to turn back the clock as the England Legends play their Aussie counterparts at the Stoop. Some still look like athletes; one or two will resemble City types who enjoy several business lunches a week, which is indeed what they have become.
But whatever the outcome, it will be an evening for those on the pitch, as much as those in the stands, to recall where they were 10 years ago: behind the sofa unable to watch, in the pub, actually at the ground as England won the World Cup.
I was there. Watching the game while writing the final chapter of the tournament’s official book. Five thousand words needed by midnight. So while detailing how Australia’s Elton Flatley had levelled the scores yet again with time running out, Matt Dawson made that darting run that we’ve all seen a million times and Jonny Wilkinson slipped back into the pocket and then dropped that goal. Except by then, with a copy deadline approaching like a steamroller, I wasn’t watching but frantically checking the other 4,000 words, so when I looked up the ball was sailing between the posts and Rob Andrew in the commentary box nearby was consumed by a patriotic frenzy that had turned him into a Tasmanian devil. Jonny did what?
It all seems a long, long time ago now. Martin Johnson, the mighty oak who led his saplings to glory, is a chastened figure, the 2011 World Cup having dealt his legacy a savage blow. That triumph turned Mike Tindall from a commoner into part of the royal family, others into media pundits, while Jonny just decided to keep on kicking his opponents into oblivion, and a decade later was a European champion with Toulon to add to his world crown.
But this week offers not just a chance for idle reminiscing, but an opportunity to assess where the current England squad sits, two years out from the next chance to emulate Sir Clive Woodward’s team. Where are the household names? Who are the stars to step into those giants’ shoes? Neither are easy questions to answer. In 2001, England were starting to look like potential world champions, and so it proved. If today’s crop are to repeat those heroics on home soil in 2015 they’d better start assuming the mantle now. And Saturday, against you-know-who, would be a good place to start.