And still they fall. Mark Regan, England's third-choice hooker at the World Cup, yesterday followed the first-choice hooker, Steve Thompson, out of Clive Woodward's red rose team for tomorrow's shameless exercise in financial opportunism at Twickenham, complaining of an injured foot. Having lost Thompson to a twisted ankle and Dorian West, his understudy in Australia, to a troublesome knee that requires surgery, the champions are now down to their umpteenth-choice replacement, the uncapped Andy Titterrell of Sale.
Titterrell will join a similary undecorated youngster, the Bath tight-head prop Matt Stevens, in a front row led by Trevor Woodman, the proud owner of a World Cup-winner's medal but by some distance the least experienced member of England's triumphant forward pack.
The last time Woodward fielded so green a combination against anyone half-decent - Wallabies, Twickers, 1997 - they were marmalised to such an extent that the two rookies, Andy Long and Will Green, saw their cherished Test ambitions disappear into the ether. Long, one of the great lost talents of English rugby, finds himself promoted to the bench, which is where he should have been six years ago. A bitter irony indeed.
Talking of ironies - and this is one that will not be lost on those who have shelled out hard-earned money for witnessing this alleged "celebration" fixture against a New Zealand Barbarians side almost entirely devoid of any New Zealander of serious note - there are more members of England's World Cup final XV playing club rugby this weekend than playing at Twickenham.
Will Greenwood has been named in the Harlequins side for tonight's Premiership match at Sale; Martin Johnson, Ben Kay and Neil Back are listed to turn out tomorrow for Leicester at Northampton, for whom Matthew Dawson is a confirmed participant; and two Wasps, Josh Lewsey and Lawrence Dallaglio, will definitely face Saracens at High Wycombe on Sunday.
Of the others, Jonny Wilkinson, Phil Vickery and Thompson are hors de combat. That leaves five of the starting line-up from Sydney: Jason Robinson, Ben Cohen, Richard Hill and Woodman - all of whom will feature in Woodward's run-on team - and the Bath centre Mike Tindall, who is on the bench.
How many punters would have parted with £50 had they known the shape of the side in advance? At least the Baa-Baas have a quorum - no mean achievement, given the absence of the entire All Blacks World Cup squad, the withdrawals of Rupeni Caucaunibuca and Nathan Mauger and the ructions over who would make up the numbers.
As it turns out, this is more of a southern hemisphere Barbarians squad, the New Zealand contingent fleshed out by two South Africans, two Samoans, a Tongan, an Argentinian and, er, an Irishman in the unfamiliar shape of Ben Willis, the Harlequins scrum-half. Willis just about qualifies, having been born a Kiwi.
Unsurprisingly, there is a serious degree of discontent among club coaches whose campaigns will be judged on Premiership points rather than English success at Test level. The two major Midlands clubs, Leicester and Northampton, were against this match from the outset, but were outvoted by rivals seduced by a promised £100,000 apiece in return for the release of players. Yesterday, Dean Richards, the director of rugby at Leicester, broke ranks and accused the Premiership community of "selling its soul" by supporting the game.
"In some respects, this is a small price to pay for winning the World Cup," he said. "But somewhere along the line, something has to give. We at Leicester have tried to put some sense into the season, but there doesn't seem to be much sense behind this match."Reuse content