This time next week, Jonny Wilkinson may well be the only starting member of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning team still playing the game at professional level – and even his extraordinary career is in its death throes. Mike Tindall’s strong indication of imminent retirement means that the most successful of all red-rose generations is quickly disappearing into the past tense.
Tindall, currently holding down a player-coach role at Gloucester, took to social media following last weekend’s Premiership victory over London Irish at Kingsholm to suggest that this Saturday’s short trip to Worcester will be his “thank you and good night” appearance at the top level, adding: “I would love to play another year but unfortunately, that option is not there for me.”
The clear implication was that the Cherry and White management had decided against offering him any kind of playing contract, although discussions over a full-time coaching position are thought to be continuing.
Wilkinson will call it a day whenever Toulon’s season ends: possibly after the Heineken Cup final with Saracens at the Millennium Stadium on 24 May; maybe after the French Championship final the following week. The men from the Cote d’Azur have a free weekend, having finished ahead of the field in the Top 14 regular season, but to make the domestic showpiece occasion in Paris, they will first have to negotiate what is certain to be an extremely demanding tie in the last four.
Only one other member of England’s 22-man squad for the ’03 final against Australia is still a going concern as a professional player: the outside back Iain Balshaw, who entered the fray off the bench early in extra time. Balshaw has had a lengthy association with Biarritz and said recently that he would be staying for another couple of years, but the Basque club finished bottom of the Top 14 and will be playing second-grade rugby next term. It is not clear whether Balshaw, struggling with injury, intends to reconsider his plans.
Talking of plans, the England coach Stuart Lancaster should discover today whether his first-choice inside centre, Billy Twelvetrees, will be fit for the forthcoming three-Test visit to New Zealand. Twelvetrees played alongside Tindall for Gloucester last Saturday but failed to go the distance after suffering an ankle injury.
Exeter have moved for the Tongan international hooker Elvis Taione, who will join the Devon club from the Championship club Jersey in time for the new season.
Taione, 30, has played Super 15 rugby for two Australian sides, the Sydney-based Waratahs and the Perth-based Western Force, but he will have to perform strongly to beat the much talked-about Luke Cowan-Dickie, an England forward in the making, and the highly competitive Jack Yeandle to a first-team berth.
Class of 2003: Where are they now?
Josh Lewsey Crossed the great divide: now in Wales as the union’s head of rugby.
Jason Robinson Director of a sportswear firm after experimenting with coaching.
Mike Tindall About to move, a little reluctantly, from player-coach to full-time coach.
Will Greenwood The brains of the midfield, now a successful television analyst.
Ben Cohen An enthusiastic campaigner on social issues, with some broadcasting.
Jonny Wilkinson Playing for Toulon, but his day is almost done. Coaching career awaits.
Matt Dawson Television, radio, sports analysis, game shows, dancing, cooking…you name it.
Trevor Woodman Back in the game as Gloucester’s scrummaging coach.
Steve Thompson Lives in Dubai. Has ambassadorial role with a security services firm.
Phil Vickery Has his own leisurewear company, dabbles in coaching and broadcasting.
Martin Johnson Still keeping his head down after a failed stint as England manager.
Ben Kay Moved into rugby broadcasting, first with ESPN and then with BT Sport.
Richard Hill Working as business development consultant after losing Saracens’ mentoring role.
Neil Back His coaching career has gone quiet. Involved with business development.
Lawrence Dallaglio A familiar figure in rugby broadcasting and busy on the charity front.
Jason Leonard Involved in the construction industry and an RFU president in waiting.
Lewis Moody A portfolio of brand ambassadorships and a column in The Independent.
Mike Catt Still in big-time rugby with England as attacking skills coach.
Iain Balshaw Plays in France with relegated Biarritz.