So, eleven weeks down the line a bunch of virtual strangers turn up and practically commandeer the Zurich Premiership. England's returning stars have at least been achieving great things abroad, but this week reality kicks in.
They have consumed the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, now it is back to the bread and butter stuff, the club game, with crusts still on. For Mike Tindall the experience of returning to his club, Bath, is odd. "I won't say it's not strange, coming back to club rugby after the World Cup, of course it is, especially for us," he said.
Tindall, who is on the bench for the Premiership leaders at Leicester, added: "We've come off the back of a great win in that team environment and we are returning to a team in which most of us don't even know half the people, because we haven't been at the club yet this season, and we have so many new players.
"It's a bit like moving clubs. It is a sobering effect in more ways than one after the high of the World Cup. To come back home to the situation we are in, with Bath at the top of the table that actually has made things a lot easier.
"The problem is that we have a lot of injuries in the backs, but that does mean that there is not as much competition for places so we can pretty well come back into the side, but when everyone is fit again it is going to be a fight for first-team places."
Tindall is joined on the bench by Danny Grewcock, who has recovered from the broken hand which ended his World Cup prematurely.
Mike Catt starts at fly-half with the Premiership's top points-scorer, Olly Barkley, moving back to inside-centre. Iain Balshaw is rested, while the Ireland centre Kevin Maggs is recovering from flu. For the first time this season there is a change in the pack, due to Michael Lipman's three-week ban for illegal use of the boot. The England Under-21 international James Scaysbrook starts at openside.
The head coach, John Connolly, said: "It is good to have the World Cup players back. They are keen to return to the action and have fitted in well in training this week. Their challenge is to set an example that befits their status of World Cup winners." The other challenge is to learn the moves and line-out calls .
Leicester have included all seven of their England World Cup-winners in the 22-man squad. Four of them, Ben Kay, Lewis Moody, Martin Corry and Julian White, startand Martin Johnson, Dorian West and Neil Back are on the bench. Kay packs down in the second row having started the World Cup final seven days ago. Richards said: "With Stewart Campbell being concussed at Rotherham last Saturday, we knew we'd have to play one of our England locks, so that's why Ben is in." Tom Tierney takes the place of Harry Ellis at scrum-half - Ellis having had his 10-week ban reduced to seven on appeal.
A shoulder injury prevents the Tigers' captain and former All Black, Josh Kronfeld, from playing in his last week in England before returning to his homeland. In Kronfeld's absence, the loosehead prop Graham Rowntree captains the side, while the Welsh hooker, Jim Richards, keeps his place after starting the last three matches, in the week that his loan deal was extended to make him available until the end of the season. Will Greenwood, named in the original line-up, has failed a late fitness test on a shoulder injury picked up in the World Cup.
Gloucester throw the England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall to the Saints for the sell-out match at Kingsholm. A front row of Rodrigo Roncero, Chris Fortey and Andy Deacon will start. The options of Nigel Melville are further extended with the return of the Samoan No 8, Junior Paramore, who returns after seven weeks out with a broken arm.
The Saracens coach, Rod Kafer, yesterday confirmed that two England players, Richard Hill and Kyran Bracken, are in the XXII for tomorrow's game against Rotherham at Vicarage Road. Sale's Scotland World Cup stars, Bryan Redpath and Jason White, are both in the starting line-up for tomorrow's game against London Irish at Madejski Stadium.
Andy Goode and Andy Kershaw have left Saracens by mutual consent with immediate effect.
RETURNING HEROES WHO IS PLAYING THIS WEEKEND
Josh Lewsey (Wasps)
The full-back - and sometime wing - went the distance five times out of seven in Australia. Not required in the XXII for Wasps at Newcastle, with Scotland's Kenny Logan back in harness on the left wing, and Mark van Gisbergen and Tom Voyce completing the starting back three.
Jason Robinson (Sale)
Played six out of seven of England's matches, plus one as a substitute, and gets a rest this weekend. Visited both Heywood Road and Sale's new home at Edgeley Park in midweek to catch up with his adoring fans - and sign copies of his (pre-World Cup) autobiography.
Mike Tindall (Bath)
Dropped in favour of club-mate Mike Catt for the World Cup semi-final, then recalled for the final, Tindall had more cause than most to feel emotionally drained. On the bench today for a Bath team who have surged to the top of the Premiership in his absence.
Will Greenwood (Quins)
Originally named to start for Harlequins but failed a late fitness test on a shoulder injury he picked up with England. Played four full matches in Oz, but more than delighted to settle down on English terra firma after flying home and back during the tournament to be with his pregnant wife, Caro.
Ben Cohen (Northampton)
Only two tries perhaps, but six full matches out of seven in England's campaign demonstrated Cohen's value to the cause. In common with each of the other three of Northampton's World Cup contingent, he misses a potentially fiery re-match at Gloucester, a month after a right old ding-dong at Franklin's Gardens.
Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle)
Having initially excused Wilko from club duties until Christmas, Newcastle backtracked and confirmed that, after today's joyful meet-and-greet at Kingston Park, he will return to the side tomorrow week in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup. To add to the David Beckham analogies, that match is against the Spanish visitors Valladolid.
Matt Dawson (Northampton)
Although Dawson went the distance only twice in the World Cup, one of them was the 100-minute final, and he was first-choice scrum-half overall. If nothing else his vocal chords need a break, though he may fancy Saints' Heineken Cup trip to Llanelli next Friday night.
Trevor Woodman (Gloucester)
The long-serving Andy Deacon continues at loosehead prop today, so Woodman, after seeing out all 100 minutes of England's final, plus the better part of three other matches, takes his place alongside his Cornish mucker Phil Vickery on the Kingsholm bench. Enjoying the afterglow of selection ahead of Jason Leonard in Oz.
Steve Thompson (Northampton)
Another Saint left to polish his halo today, after playing throughout the final. Thompson's lineout throwing might also have caused him the odd sleepless night, but he summoned enough energy to go down on one knee on Manly beach last Sunday and ask his girlfriend Fiona McArthur to marry him.
Phil Vickery (Gloucester)
After playing the first 80 minutes of the final, the Raging Bull is penned on the bench for Gloucester as understudy to Argentina's Rodrigo Roncero, who got back from the World Cup a couple of weeks ago. The Cherry and Whites have two other front-rowers, Steve Brotherstone and Paul Johnstone, injured.
Martin Johnson (Leicester)
England played only 55 minutes of the entire tournament - against Uruguay - without their glorious leader. Leicester say it was a toss-up between Johnson and Ben Kay as to who would step in for the concussed Stewart Campbell versus Bath today. So Johnno is a sub: ear plugs at the ready at Welford Road if he comes on.
Ben Kay (Leicester)
The son of a High Court judge eschews the bench today, instead becoming the first of England's starting XV from the final to start for his club. Having shared duties with Danny Grewcock for a couple of years, Kay made the No 5 jersey his own in Oz, playing six full matches.
Richard Hill (Saracens)
Durable to a fault, Hill follows Ben Kay as the only other member of the starting XV from the final to lace his boots up from the word go this weekend. Recovery aided by a four-week stand-down leading up to the semi-final, while tending a hamstring strain sustained in the first match.
Neil Back (Leicester)
Missed only one match in the World Cup, and went the distance in five out of the other six. One of seven returning Tigers all included in today's XXII, Back will not expect to stay on the bench for long, with next week's opening Heineken Cup fixture away to old rivals Stade Français looming large.
Lawrence Dallaglio (Wasps)
The only man to play in every minute of every match Down Under, Dallaglio is confined to royal-waving and television commentary duties in showing off the Webb Ellis Cup alongside Jonny Wilkinson today. Likely to return for Wasps as captain and No 8 for the crunch Heineken Cup opener at home to Perpignan tomorrow week.
Mike Catt (Bath)
Catt's kick into touch rounded off his extra-time stint in the final. That and a famous second half against Wales should earn him a warm welcome - yes, even at Leicester - as he goes straight into Bath's side at fly-half.
Iain Balshaw (Bath)
Had his injury worries during the tournament, in a reprise of his troubled Lions tour to Australia in 2001. After one full match, and three part-appearances, Balshaw is rested for Bath's renewal of old rivalries with Leicester.
Dan Luger (Perpignan)
A peripheral World Cup performer apart from the "16th man" fiasco. He is due at his new club, Perpignan, on Tuesday, and so misses today's French Championship match away to Montpellier. Eagle-eyed fans spotted Luger wearing his old Harlequins jersey when England posed for photos in club colours on Manly beach last Monday.
Stuart Abbott (Wasps)
The South African was not needed for the semi-final or final, and resumes his partnership at inside-centre alongside Fraser Waters. The midfield is completed by Alex King, who but for injury might have made the World Cup, and only resumed at fly-half last week, six months after the Zurich Premiership final.
Paul Grayson (Northampton)
Two bit-part appearances in Oz leave Wilkinson's understudy fresh, but Grayson will wait at least another week until a possible return to action in Europe. Thus an Australian who was not at the World Cup, Shane Drahm, continues at 10 for Saints against Gloucester.
Kyran Bracken (Saracens)
An interested observer from the bench for the final, to put it diplomatically, Bracken will occupy the same position in understudying Morgan Williams for Saracens at home to Rotherham tomorrow. "Sure to make an appearance", according to Saracens, after one full match in Oz plus three stints as a replacement.
Andy Gomarsall (Gloucester)
Posed happily for photos at Kingsholm during the week, wearing his England No 9 jersey from the pool match against Uruguay, when he played for just over an hour and scored two tries. After only one other substitute appearance, he is ready to start in front of the Shed against Northampton.
Jason Leonard (Quins)
Two full matches and four bit-part affairs added up to a red letter, record-breaking World Cup for the world's most-capped player. Leonard will plant his considerable posterior on the bench for Harlequins this afternoon; expect a standing ovation if he comes on.
Julian White (Leicester)
Disappeared from the World Cup scene in the knock-out stages, and goes straight into the struggling Tigers' starting line-up against Bath. In so doing, White makes his competitive debut for the club he joined from Bristol last summer, packing down alongside Graham Rowntree and the Welshman Jimmy Richards.
Dorian West (Leicester)
Had one full match in the pool stage, plus seconds in the semi-final against France. If West is one widely tipped for international retirement, then it was an excellent way to go. Among the replacements for Leicester this afternoon.
Mark Regan (Leeds)
After appearing in two part-matches in the pool, Regan slipped behind Dorian West in the hookers' pecking order, but was all smiles in the runaround with the World Cup after the final. A replacement for Leeds at Harlequins today, with Matt Holt keeping the No 2 jersey.
Danny Grewcock (Bath)
In contrast to Kay, had a calamitous trip, breaking a toe, then a bone in his hand. Played only a single pool match against Uruguay before flying home early. Recovered now, but selected on the bench today.
Martin Corry (Leicester)
Only Simon Shaw saw less action in the World Cup. As second row cover, Corry managed 45 minutes against Uruguay, although his place among England's replacements for the final told of a reassuring strength in depth. Returns to Leicester's starting XV today, in the No 6 jersey.
Simon Shaw (Wasps)
Flown out as a replacement for the injured Danny Grewcock, he gained selection on the bench at first, but spent the next two weeks "holding tackle bags". Never crossed the white line in Australia so champing at the bit, and regains his Wasps place at the expense of Martin Purdy.
Lewis Moody (Leicester)
Moody played six extra-time minutes against Australia, a similar number in the semi-final, and all of the matches against Wales, Uruguay and South Africa while Richard Hill was out. Starts at openside for the Tigers today.
Joe Worsley (Wasps)
Strode into Heathrow with his trusty guitar slung over a shoulder, full of energy after five minutes against South Africa, a full 80 against Uruguay, and 50 against Samoa, when he was sin-binned. Returns to Wasps' back row, alongside Jonny O'Connor and Mark Lock.Reuse content