Tindall brings golden era to an end

Date published: July 17 2014

Mike Tindall's retirement brings down the curtain on England's greatest team.

Mike Tindall's retirement brings down the curtain on English rugby's greatest team, with the 2003 crop now confined to history.

In the end it only took five days for the last two standing to call it quits. Tindall and Iain Balshaw, the best man at Tindall's wedding three years ago, have both hung up their boots.

They follow Jonny Wilkinson, who after winning the Top 14 and Heineken Cup this season called time on an exemplary if not always smooth career that turned him into a superstar and millionaire.

Tindall has always been more salt of the earth, as his comments about club rugby clearly outline.

“I could play two more years if I really wanted to but club rugby is a very special thing for me, it's what I love about the game,” he said.

“International rugby and the Lions are great but club rugby is your bread and butter and dictates where you go in your life.

“You have to buy into that. I always wanted to be a one-club man but that didn't happen. But I was very lucky to be at two great clubs in Gloucester and Bath.”

His overall 17-year career wasn't completely tarnished after the Rugby World Cup three years ago, but did take a lot of damage, enough anyway to bring his England career to a close – although realistically, at 31, time was already against him.

Having recalled Tindall for the final in 2003, after dropping him for Mike Catt's kicking game in the semi-final win over France, Clive Woodward was effusive in his praise of Tindall after Tuesday's announcement.

“For a few years, Mike was as good as any centre in the world, right up there with Brian O'Driscoll,” said Woodward.

“Mike was a rock in the England team I was privileged to coach and was always one of the first names on the team sheet.

“He was sometimes under-rated but not by me or any of the England guys who played alongside Tinds. He was very strong, ran a nice outside curve, had a big clearing kick, was hugely brave in the tackle and contact area and had a much better passing game than he was given credit for.”

Praise, whether true or not, doesn't come much higher. It's a reminder to those who lamented Tindall for his one-dimensional play that in fact his skill set actually wasn't so narrow.

Those three – Tindall, Balshaw and Wilkinson – were the last of the 30 that lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Sydney 11 years ago to join the others in retirement, eight months after the ten-year anniversary celebrating England's success last November at Twickenham.

At half-time during the match between England and Australia the 2003 vintage were paraded around Twickenham.

Even with the current England side just trailing 16-20 against the Wallabies, the sight of Martin Johnson leading around England's most successful group of players served as an acute reminder of how little the national team has achieved since – a Six Nations title in 2011 and a Triple Crown this year.

2013/2014 was the first season where England felt like they were due for more success, but not all the results support that opinion. The loss in Paris in February, with every English and French outing since then, feels more and more absurd.

Johnson's team remain the most recent English team to win in New Zealand against the All Blacks, a fact that for a moment at Eden Park last month seemed about to become a comical anomaly with Robshaw's depleted core within touching distance of the win.

The remaining Tests in Dunedin and Hamilton felt like order being restored, but not the unravelling of the current England side's progress under Lancaster .

Until results like those clinched in 2003 are permanent in black and white, the England team of today and the future will always be measured against the 2003 squad.

Rightly so. The achievement of winning a Grand Slam followed by victory in New Zealand before winning the World Cup, admittedly by the slimmest of margins, is a very special one.

Tindall has the honour of being the last man out the door, following Johnson and Dallaglio and Back and Hill and Robinson and so many other great players.

There is to be no 18th season for him in English club rugby, with the writing on the wall following Gloucester's decision to fire Nigel Davies and bring in David Humphreys.

A career in coaching beckons, as it has for Catt, West, Woodman, Worsley and others to varying degrees of success, including now Wilkinson – who with his obsession for the sport and perfection might be the best of the lot.

Nothing gold can stay. It's now the turn of Lancaster and his squad to reach the level set by Tindall and the rest some time ago.

by Ben Coles