Charlie Hodgson recalls magic moments but reveals why he has mixed feelings about England rugby union career
Admittedly, playing in the same era as a certain Jonny Wilkinson, securing and maintaining the Red Rose No10 jersey was always likely to be an invidious proposition.
But Yorkshireman Hodgson, seemingly effortlessly brilliant for club side Sale Sharks, enjoyed memorable moments with his country, including a remarkable display in the 32-16 win against South Africa at Twickenham on November 20 2004.
He scored 27 points, equalling the English record against the Springboks, as, one year on from their World Cup glory, they secured a sixth straight win versus those opponents.
Hodgson – deputising for the injured Wilkinson - finished with a try, five penalties, two conversions and a drop-goal as he helped Andy Robinson’s side to an excellent success.
The Halifax-born playmaker had missed the 2003 World Cup due to a knee reconstruction – he would cruelly sit out the tournament four years later due to injury again – but made the most of this opportunity.
Hodgson recalled to The Yorkshire Post: “It was a little bit different playing in 2004, which was understandable after a World Cup win the year before.
“There was a hysteria around it, a lot of pressure around the team to still perform to those levels the win had created and that expectation was there.
“Clive Woodward had moved on, Andy Robinson had come in, and it was a pretty pressurised time, if I’m honest.
“But it was one of those days where things just seemed to flow for us. We scored a coupe of nice tries, especially the one Mark Cueto scored from a crossfield kick from Henry Paul.
“What we did worked well and the boys worked incredibly hard for each other. Given the conditions were rubbish, we managed to deal with it all pretty well.”
The Springboks – who, this time, are world champions when they return to Twickenham on Saturday for their latest autumn international meeting with England – were laden with players of the quality of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Percy Montgomery and Jon Smit, the captain who would later play alongside Hodgson at Saracens.
“That South Africa side was full of stars and players I’d known for a long time,” he added.
“But it was also actually Bryan Habana’s first Test and he scored a try. We all know what he went on to do.”
Hodgson, who attended Bradford Grammar School and played for Old Brodleians before joining Sale, added: “You always knew what you were going to get with South Africa; it’d be really confrontational, really physical, regardless of who was playing for them and that day was no different.
“We just expected we’d get this barrage of physical… I won’t say abuse but just people wanting to beat you up. You have to match it like for like really. That was always the biggest test I found playing against South Africa: you had to be prepared to get hit as that’s what was coming.
“It was no different but the team that day, things worked for us. Martin Corry played well as did Joe Worsley. The forwards were brilliant. Ultimately they set the platform for us to do our thing.”
There was a heavy Broad Acres contingent in the England backline: fellow Yorkshiremen Jason Robinson – who was captain – and Mike Tindall featured while ex-Bradford Bulls star Henry Paul joined Hodgson in midfield.
But it was hooker Steve Thompson and scrum-half Andy Gomarsall who combined to put him in space for his try on 15 minutes, Hodgson holding off the tackles of Jean de Villiers and Breyton Paulse.
“I didn’t score that many tries playing for England,” he said, his tally reaching eight by the time he called his international retirement in 2012.
“So that was great and then, because the way conditions were, you’re naturally thinking drop-goals so to get the whole thing of drop-goal, try, conversion and penalty was quite a nice thing to be able to finish on.
“But I don’t ever think ‘that’s amazing.’ Maybe that’s my Yorkshire personality coming out!”
The 27 points against South Africa matched Wilkinson’s feat against them four years earlier in Bloemfontein and Rob Andrew’s tally in Pretoria on England’s 1994 tour.
Nevertheless, Hodgson stands alone when it comes to most points in a match for an England player, amassing 44 in the 134-0 annihilation of Romania on his debut in 2001.
But he maintained: “Rightly or wrongly I do have mixed feelings about my England career.
“Whilst it was an amazing thing to have done, I look at it and think there’s things which I wish had been different or maybe I should have done something differently.
“It’s not necessarily regretful, but I do think sometimes players take to international rugby better than they do, let’s say, club rugby.
“For me, that step up to international rugby was never plain sailing so even though it went really well at that stage in 2004 in that game, there were always moments where you are constantly being tested. And rightly so, It’s international rugby so that’s the way it is.”
Hodgson’s best run of Tests came between 2004 and 2006 when, with Wilkinson injured, he made 18 consecutive starts.
That came to an end when he ruptured the ACL in his other knee, ironically in an Autumn international against South Africa.
At times, he was often criticised for defensive errors – the All Blacks’ Ma’a Nonu gave him a torrid time in the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland in 2008 and he did not feature again on that tour.
And it is perhaps understandable why he struggles to always look back fondly.
Hodgson said: “I would never take any of it back and you always enjoy those (great) moments.
“But there were certainly times when things were really difficult for me and I did struggle with it at times.
“Yet there was also times when it went really well. I sit on the fence with the whole thing; it was amazing and nice that it happened and would I jump straight back on the field if I could? Of course, I would.
“But I’d probably have a different perspective on it as well.”
Hodgson, who has five children, never returned north after retiring as a double Premiership winner with Sarries in 2016 and now works for Smith & Nephew in medical device sales.
“It’s basically selling to surgeons who are fixing problems that were created playing rugby,” he explained.
“It’s all the injuries we had and experienced – ACLs, shoulders – so it’s gone full circle.”
How rugby league offered Hodgson the inspiration for starting up in union
ALTHOUGH he never played, Charlie Hodgson admits rugby league – and the Halifax club, in particular – proved an “inspiration” for his own decorated union career.
The ex-England fly-half, 41, grew up in the West Yorkshire town and said: “I played union for Old Brods and at school but always watched league.
“It was our thing as a family. We’d go to Halifax and travel around following them everywhere.
“A lot of my inspiration came from watching league players like Shaun Edwards and Jason Robinson. To get to eventually play with Jason still seems ridiculous!
“If I’m being honest, I didn’t really know much about union; it wasn’t televised much aside from the Five Nations and maybe Rugby Special on a Sunday evening.
“And I didn’t really know much about the players – I knew of Rob Andrew and Will Carling but didn’t follow them avidly. It was the rugby league players who caught my eye through watching Halifax.”
He added: “My dad went to watch them win the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in 1987 and the following year we got there again but got smashed by Wigan, Ellery Hanley taking the p*ss out of us.
“I was only about seven but that’s where it all began for me. We watched Halifax for years at Thrum Hall.”