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Premiership Rugby

What future for England?

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

If there is any consolation to be had Down Under following triumph of  "Dad's Army" in the Rugby World Cup it is the fact that the team cannot last forever … well the immortal Jonny aside perhaps.

They point to the famous England pack, with a number of them well into their thirties, and will them to ride off into the sunset. But is the prospect of mass England retirement really a present danger?

England coach Clive Woodward appears relaxed over the issue and thinks not – although he has conceded that time does moves on, and he will no doubt be looking to continue to blood the new talent in order to counteract the inevitable march of time.

Captain Martin Johnson has neatly sidestepped questions surrounding an immediate decision in his future, but the rugby colossus is 34 next May and has previously stated he would not be going on another Lions tour, suggesting his Test career won't extend past 2004.

Veteran prop Jason Leonard is 35, but – given his versatility at 1 or 3 – Woodward will surely want him in his squad for as long as he keeps up his fitness. Same goes for flanker Neil Back who is coming up for 35 in January, and reserve hooker Dorian West who is 36.

Even the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Will Greenwood and Matt Dawson are not immune to speculation over whether they will call time on their England careers given the high of winning a RWC.

The good news for England fans is that even before the RWC triumph, it is clear that investment and work has been going in to build for the future.

You only have to look at the way Clive Woodward has brought all the junior England teams into his domain. The England squad had 60 players at one stage, with plenty of young faces involved before it was trimmed down to just 30.

So who can we look out for over the next few years?

Well, contrary to what a number of Aussie scribes may have their readers believe, a number of the existing squad are set fair for the next few years – fitness and form permitting.

In the forwards, Lewis Moody (25) has already shown glimpses of what he is capable off although he still has some way to go to fill the mighty boots of Richard Hill. Hooker Steve Thompson (25) seems to have made the No.2 jersey his own, whilst the likes of Trevor Woodman (27) and Phil Vickery (27) will remain characteristically steadfast.

And so to the backs. Well, let's start with that man at No.10. Only 24, yes, 24, the only danger is of him getting bored with the game or injured. Elsewhere Ben Cohen (25) is shaping up well to nail down a winger's spot.

In terms of players outside the RWC squad, England have a huge pool of talent.

Gloucester speed merchant Marcel Garvey has attracted some rave reviews – some maybe a little over the top, but he could be an unpolished diamond.

Leicester centre Ollie Smith narrowly missed out on RWC selection but he continues to look like England's brightest prospect at outside centre, Olly Barkley at inside is another midfield possibility.

The recovering Shark's stand-off Charlie Hodgson is another option for inside centre, and certainly capable back-up to fly-half Wilkinson.

Scrum-half is a slight problem position but both Martyn Wood of Bath and Harry Ellis of Leicester are potentials for next year.

Amongst the younger forwards, Tigers flanker Will Skinner is widely touted, and the half-forgotten David Flatman, Gloucester's Jamie Forrester and Leed's lock Tom Palmer are all knocking on England's door.

So interesting times for England fans and the squad. A time for re-adjustment and retirements?

Well maybe, but be reassured that the Zurich Premiership remains a fertile nursery and, just like London buses, who knows we may get two RWC titles in a row. 

By James Sharp

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