England v South Africa – Only Jason Robinson and Jonny Wilkinson would get in current Red Rose team, says Mark Regan

IT says plenty about the quality of this England side soon to step out in Yokohama that Mark Regan feels only “maybe” two of his 2003 World Cup-winning team-mates would even get in it.

On top of the world: England's Mark Regan holds the Webb Ellis Cup during the victory parade in 2003.
On top of the world: England's Mark Regan holds the Webb Ellis Cup during the victory parade in 2003.

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World Cup final - England v South Africa: It’s our chance to realise boyhood dre...

Nevertheless, the former Leeds Tykes hooker – who also started in the 2007 final when England lost to final opponents South Africa – maintains it is a different matter entirely when it comes to after-dinner speaking.

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It has been 16 years since Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson, Jason Robinson et al made history in Sydney by helping England win the Webb Ellis Cup for the first and only time.

Plenty of that garlanded squad are rightly able to regale the tale time after time, some even making a career out of it.

Eddie Jones’s current side hope to finally emulate them by defeating the Springboks.

That, in turn, could damage business for the likes of the garrulous Regan, who was in Sir Clive Woodward’s ’03 squad but did not actually make the match-day 23 on that historic night against the Wallabies.

If things go according to plan today, years from now it might be Jamie George, Jonny May, Owen Farrell – well, perhaps not Farrell – and Kyle Sinckler doing the after-dinner circuit.

“The thing is now these guys are like cardboard pirates; they aren’t half as funny,” joked Regan, when speaking to The Yorkshire Post.

“People like to hear from the amateur days through to the professional days – not how training was and how much you bench-pressed. So, no, I don’t see that being a threat at all.

“I can see them emulating us on Saturday, though. Definitely.

“England were outstanding last week against the All Blacks. I thought the team played magnificently well.

“I hope they haven’t shown all their cards, mind, and have saved their best ‘til last.

“I think they’ll need it against a South African side that is going to be very, very physical as we know; they’re going to be route one and try and run over us not around us so Saturday is going to be more of a physical game.

“But I do think England will win and I don’t think there’s many people in that ’03 side that’d get in this current team.

“Maybe Jason Robinson and possibly Wilkinson. I know times were different back then.

“We were very professional but this side is so much better – bigger, faster, stronger.

“It was a magical side, don’t get me wrong, but this one is, too, and I expect them to get the job done.”

Regan, 47, is not expecting a classic, though, after witnessing South Africa’s efficient but pragmatic passage to the final.

“It will be a boring game,” said the former British Lion, who was a Leeds player when England lifted the World Cup and helped Tykes claim the Powergen Cup in a shock win over former club Bath two years later.

“It’ll be a kicking, aerial game as well. That Faf De Klerk kicks everything. We can also mix it – we have big lads ourselves – or we can try and keep it off the ground to win it with some skill.

“But being a World Cup final there is going to be a lot of pressure and people – on both sides – won’t want to make mistakes.”

He knows that from experience, having been part of the England side that succumbed in their last World Cup final, losing 15-6 in a tryless Parisian affair with the Springboks.

England winger Mark Cueto had an effort controversially ruled out and Regan – who was a surprise pick instead of the dropped George Chuter – recalled: “If it wasn’t for an Australian TMO I’m sure that would have been a try for Cueto.

“Then I could have been sat here as a double World Cup winner, not just one.

“We’d lost 36-nil to South Africa in the pool stages and, after that result, it was a very nervy game. It showed what pressure can do to some people.

“We never expected to be there after the way we started the tournament but, to be fair, we battled back. We didn’t want to be the worst defending champions to be knocked out in the pool stages.

“We were battle-hardened by the end, beating Australia in the quarters and then obviously France.

“We were ready to play South Africa. We had a bone to pick with them – and we were unfortunate. We gave it a bloody good go and came up just short.”

He does not expect this England side to suffer the same fate.

Meanwhile, Regan concedes he is “saddened” to see Tykes’ latest incarnation, Yorkshire Carnegie, slumped bottom of the Championship as a part-time operation.

He played 69 games for them between 2002 and 2005 when Tykes were in the Premiership and gracing the Heineken Cup.

Regan said: “I really did enjoy my time up in Leeds. The missus and kids were crying when we left Bristol – they didn’t want to leave and cried all the way up there.

“Yet when we left Leeds they cried all the way back; they didn’t want to leave.

“It was a very fond, fond time of my life. We had a great set-up. It was fantastic and we made a good fist of it didn’t we? It hurts to see them where they are now.”