World Cup winners have been retiring from international rugby right, left and centre, but none of the departees - not Lawrence Dallaglio or Jason Leonard or Kyran Bracken, and certainly not Johnson himself - have called it quits with their heart beating furiously on their sleeve as Mark Regan did yesterday.
World Cup winners have been retiring from international rugby right, left and centre since Martin Johnson held the Webb Ellis Trophy aloft almost a year ago, but none of the departees - not Lawrence Dallaglio or Jason Leonard or Kyran Bracken, and certainly not Johnson himself - have called it quits with their heart beating furiously on their sleeve as Mark Regan did yesterday. Dropped from the England party for this weekend's Test with Canada at Twickenham despite being the man in possession of the hooker's shirt, Regan made no secret of his dissatisfaction with life as he disappeared through the red rose door for the last time.
If Andy Robinson's cauliflower ears were not burning, the new England head coach must have spent the day with his head in the fridge. "I was flabbergasted when the team was announced," Regan said, with his customary directness. "I don't want people to think this is a case of sour grapes, but I really don't think I can take the mind games any more. I was the number one hooker when England last played, and I haven't been given the opportunity to defend my place. That upsets me.
"In fact, I can't remember being more upset about anything in all the time I've been playing rugby. I don't mind admitting that I've shed a tear over this, and my wife has been crying down the phone. I've been in and out of the England side for years now and always responded to my disappointments by giving more of myself to the cause. But I can't do it any more, because I don't think it is in my power to change Andy's mind. I know I'm playing better than any hooker in England at the moment, but that doesn't appear to count. What is the point of flogging up and down the country when I can concentrate on playing for my club, where I know where I stand?"
Now a senior sporting citizen at 32, the Leeds front-rower won the last of his 33 caps against Australia last June, having elbowed Steve Thompson out of the starting line-up during the tour. But Thompson, short of rugby after picking up a rib injury last month, was reinstated by Robinson on Monday, with the inexperienced Andy Titterrell of Sale as his understudy. It was the final indignity for the passionate Regan, who had been in the international mix for nine eventful years. A sad way to go? Definitely.
Robinson spouted forth the usual diplomatic niceties yesterday. "Mark had a tremendous career with England," he said, "and I respect his decision, as I respect the decisions of all those players who feel they no longer want to be involved at this level." But the coach did not get where he is today by spending too much time dabbling around in the past tense. This future of this new team of his, featuring a Test debutant in Mark Cueto of Sale and a fresh captain in Jason Robinson, exercised his mind to a far greater degree, especially as the Canadian match will be followed by immeasurably more difficult games against South Africa and Australia.
Asked whether the skipper's self-confessed unfamiliarity with the intricacies of the union rulebook might threaten the quality of his decision-making at important moments, he was unwilling to concede so much as a millimetre. "Jason is an inspirational figure, and he's already been outstanding in the way he has spoken to the team, in addition to the way he has trained," the coach insisted. "As for leadership, there are leaders throughout the team. Mike Tindall is the defensive captain, Steve Borthwick will run the line-out, Martin Corry and Andy Gomarsall and Charlie Hodgson are decision-makers at eight, nine and 10. There will be people making tactical calls in a number of areas."
Joe Worsley of Wasps has been withdrawn from the team in the hope that he will recover from a minor leg problem in time to face the Springboks on Saturday week. Andy Hazell of Gloucester wins his first cap in the breakaway position, with Lewis Moody moving to the blind-side flank.
¿ The Ireland coach, Eddie O'Sullivan hopes the presence of Test debutant Johnny O'Connor will give his side the edge over South Africa at Lansdowne Road on Saturday. The Springboks have opted for a beefed-up back row by selecting Schalk Burger, A J Venter and Joe van Niekerk.Reuse content