Flashback: Guscott’s last hurrah

Date published: October 12 2016

In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.

Today we’re going back to Jeremy Guscott’s final game of his England career, although the veteran centre’s final appearance wasn’t the great fanfare you might expect.

October 15, 1999

Even today, Guscott is regarded as one of England’s greatest centres.

His Test career ended with a total of 73 caps and 31 tries, of which 65 appearances and 30 tries were for his country, the rest coming for the British and Irish Lions.

With the Lions it was Guscott who slotted the famous drop goal in 1997 to clinch the series win over then world champions South Africa.

Two years later with the 1999 Rugby World Cup rolling around though, his future at international level was in serious jeopardy.

Clive Woodward dropped the 34-year-old Guscott ahead of England’s must-win match with Tonga.

He wasn’t the only big name to lose their spot, given that Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Leonard, Richard Cockerill and Tim Rodber too were all axed.

But Guscott’s future looked perilous deep into his career and in the wake of England’s defeat to New Zealand.

Guscott was left out of the matchday squad entirely but a rib injury to Phil de Glanville, who had been named to start in midfield alongside a young Will Greenwood, handed him a reprieve.

England cruised to victory, scoring 13 tries in a 101-10 win, but the focus was all on Guscott, with the sense that a persistent groin injury was bringing his career to an end.

Ngalu Taufo’ou’s red card in the 35th minute hadn’t helped matters for Tonga and by the time Guscott stepped inside and burst 70 metres upfield to score under the posts (watch it below), they were well and truly out on their feet.

Appropriately it was Guscott who later put the stamp on the victory with England’s 13th and final score, an interception try from long-range, as they advanced to the quarter-finals.

Jannie de Beer’s five drop goals then paved the way for England’s exit, with Guscott watching on from the stands having announced his retirement following his double against Tonga.

“This is one of the saddest days of my life because I have finally had to accept I’ve played my last match for England,” he told the BBC.

“The groin problem which has already disrupted a part of my career has returned to end it.

“A lot of hard work was put in to get into peak condition for the World Cup, but sadly to no avail.”

21 Oct 1999: Jeremy Guscott of England watches training from the stand after announcing his retirement from international rugby in Paris, France. Mandatory Credit: Dave Rogers /Allsport

21 Oct 1999: Jeremy Guscott of England watches training from the stand after announcing his retirement from international rugby in Paris, France. Mandatory Credit: Dave Rogers /Allsport

The teams:

England: 15 Matt Perry, 14 Austin Healey, 13 Will Greenwood, 12 Jeremy Guscott, 11 Dan Luger, 10 Paul Grayson, 9 Matt Dawson, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, 7 Richard Hill, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Garath Archer, 4 Martin Johnson (c), 3 Phil Vickery, 2 Phil Greening, 1 Graham Rowntree
Replacements: 16 Nick Beal, 17 Mike Catt, 18 Jonny Wilkinson, 19 Neil Back, 20 Danny Grewcock, 21 Jason Leonard, 22 Richard Cockerill

Tonga: 15 Sateki Tu’ipulotu, 14 Tevita Tiueti, 13 Fepikou Tatafu, 12 Salesi Finau, 11 Semi Taupeaafe, 10 ‘Elisi Vunipola (c), 9 Sililo Martens, 8 Katilimoni Tu’ipulotu, 7 Sonatone Koloi, 6 David Edwards, 5 Benhur Kivalu, 4 ‘Isileli Fatani, 3 Tevita Taumoepeau, 2 Fe’ao Vunipola, 1 Ngalu Taufo’ou
Replacements: 16 Sione Mone Tu’ipulotu, 17 ‘Isi Tapueluelu, 18 -Falamani Mafi 19 ‘Epeli Taione, 20 Va’a Toloke, 21 T’au Fainga’anuku, 22 Latiume Maka

Referee: Wayne Erikson (Australia)