Shontayne Hape accepts his England career has run its course as he thinks the new interim head coach Stuart Lancaster will plan a Six Nations overhaul.
Hape, 30, will not retire from Test duty but he believes the time is right for Lancaster to blood the next generation of centres – the likes of Owen Farrell and Henry Trinder. Lancaster will name England's 32-man Six Nations squad on 11 January, and it could feature up to 17 players who did not appear at the World Cup. "It is time to start rebuilding for the next World Cup," the Auckland-born London Irish centre said. "It is time for the young guys to step up and take charge and get that experience of playing in big games.
"I got to win the Six Nations, which was a treat, and I think it is time for the young guys to experience that. You have to start looking at the new breed coming through. The only way they learn is if you play them. I am a big believer in chucking young players in there to see what they can do. On the way if older guys are selected to help out, then so be it. I wouldn't say no if I was selected, but I wouldn't be hanging my hat on it."
Hape must reflect on 2011 with mixed emotions. He helped England win their first Six Nations title in eight years and was named in the World Cup squad, but it soon became clear he was out of favour with management and he played just one game, the pool match against Georgia, in which he scored two tries.
Hape had been desperate to play at Eden Park, the stadium where his late grandfather had played cricket, but he was never given the chance. The head coach Martin Johnson decided to start with Toby Flood at inside centre for the quarter-final defeat by France and that was the end for Hape.
"The way it turned out was sad, the way we ended up losing," Hape added. "But if that was my last game for England, then so be it – I would still be a happy man. Winning the Six Nations was the biggest achievement of my rugby career. I can say I played in a World Cup and I scored two tries. I have a lot of [happy] memories playing for England."
When Hape came home from New Zealand he wanted to put the experience behind him and refused, along with James Haskell and Delon Armitage, to take part in the player review. None of them trusted the process to remain confidential and Hape felt the best way to give honest feedback should have been face to face, not with anonymous comments. Sure enough, the reports were leaked to the press.
"We had lots of pressure put on us to take part but it was the best advice I received, not to fill out that form," he said.
With his move away from Bath behind him, Hape has rediscovered his zest under the guidance of Toby Booth and Mike Catt, who he believes are future England coaches. "Toby and Catty have given me a new lease of life and made me realise I am enjoying playing my rugby again," he said.
"I know there is a lot of talk about whether Catty would be prepared to go to England. He is still learning and I don't think he wants to be chucked in at the deep end."