The East Terrace
English rugby announces retirement
James Stafford
May 27, 2011
England captain Martin Johnson lifts the Rugby World Cup, England v Australia, Rugby World Cup Final, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Australia, November 22, 2003.
Should England have called time on their career after their triumph at the 2003 Rugby World Cup? © Getty Images

After an impressive career, one that included 26 Championship wins, 12 Grand Slams, 23 Triple Crowns and a Rugby World Cup Cup victory, English Rugby has announced that it will retire from the sport after the World Cup finals in New Zealand.

At a special Twickenham media conference, called with just five hours' notice for the press, English Rugby shocked the game with an announcement no-one saw coming.

Displaying a stiff upper lip, English Rugby just about retained its composure as it revealed to the assembled press that it was 'figuratively and literally' hanging up its boots this autumn.

"It's been a splendid innings," said the 140-year-old sporting institution. "But it's time to move on and do something new. I've always wanted to go out on my terms and not be forced to end for other reasons. So with that in mind I wish to announce that after this year's World Cup, English Rugby will cease its involvement with world rugby."

The decision has taken the rugby world by surprise and it seems no other goeverning bodies or individuals were aware of English Rugby's intentions. The abrupt announcement is likely to upset sponsors and broadcasters, who now face the prospect of future World Cups and Six Nations without England. As of press time it is unclear if the 2012 Six Nations will revert to a Five Nations or if another nation will be asked to enter.

The BBC, who hold the rights to the Six Nations in the UK, is said to be 'seriously considering' ending its broadcasting deal as with current budget cuts it might not be able to justify the expense of showing a tournament that has suddenly lost the biggest section of its audience. Some of the BBC's main English presenters, such as John Inverdale and the fanatical England fan Ian Robertson, are said to be distraught at the news.

English Rugby admitted it had been considering retirement for years now and, in hindsight, should have perhaps stood down after the famous 2003 World Cup victory in Australia.

"Looking back, that would have been the perfect time to step away from the game," said the Twickenham native. "But I guess, like an old heavyweight champ, I just wanted a few more encounters and I think my performances in the Six Nations in the following years showed that the spark had gone and the love wasn't there anymore. To be honest, if I had managed to sneak a victory in my surprise World Cup final appearance in 2007 I would have stepped down there and then."

English Rugby has had a career to be proud of, and here are some of the highlights:

Milestones in English Rugby history:

  • 1871: Plays first international against Scotland. The match was paused every fifteen minutes to allow for tea break, using only the finest china from the Empire.
  • 1892: Kick off in Home Championship encounter with Wales delayed 43 minutes as Sherlock Holmes solves double murder in away team dressing room.
  • 1923: First working class player allowed to play for England.
  • 1947: England team make first pass to working class player.
  • 1980: England claim a famous Grand Slam despite being captained by a television game show personality.
  • 2000: Rise of isotonic sports drinks leads England to abandon traditional recovery drink of aftershave.
  • 2003: England win 2003 World Cup despite 40% of team, according to Australian media, being made up of orcs on steroids.
  • 2007: Mark Cueto has try disallowed in narrow World Cup final loss to South Africa.
  • 2008: Mark Cueto tells world about his 'certain' try in 2007 World Cup final.
  • 2009: Mark Cueto tells world about his 'certain' try in 2007 World Cup final.
  • 2010: Mark Cueto tells world about his 'certain' try in 2007 World Cup final.
  • 2011: England win Six Nations Championship, causing Mark Cueto to reflect on what could have been in 2007 World Cup.

English Rugby revealed its win in this year's 2011 Six Nations was inspired by a wish to go out on a high.

"The Home Nations Championships, as I still like to call it, is the special event for me," it said. "As great as the World Cup is, me and the Home Championship go back so long (1883) it holds a special place in my heart. I told myself at the start of the year that if I won this year that would be it, I'd say goodbye to this glorious game. It was that decision which spurred me on to glory this year and as enjoyable as it was at times, I also knew my heart was no longer in it.

"At the age of 140 years, I'm just a bit tired and this year I really felt it. By the time I reached Dublin I felt burnt out and I think it showed. I considered stepping down then but I know so much work has gone into the World Cup by organisers and my old friend New Zealand Rugby that I didn't want to let them down by pulling out so late. Besides, it will be nice to have one more good old knees up with the old gang down under."

The IRB is believed to be preparing a special appeal in an attempt to change English Rugby's mind. However, English Rugby has clearly stated it will not consider any appeals and its mind is made up: "Since I came to my decision I've felt at peace with myself. It really has been a wonderful experience and I've felt equally proud in all my 636 Test appearances, but it's time to do other things. I'll always have my memories."

English Rugby denied rumours that the embarrassment of being associated with Chris Ashton's swandives were the main cause of its retirement.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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