Thanks for the memories

(Rugby News Service) Friday 19 October 2007
By Karen Bond
From Paris
Thanks for the memories
Double act: Australia half back partners George Gregan and Stephen Larkham

PARIS, 19 October – For a number of players and coaches the end of this world cup brings down the final curtain on their international careers.

The tournament was always going to be the final act for France coach Bernard Laporte and his Argentina counterpart Marcelo Loffreda, both having announced their departures some months ago.

Laporte will become the junior minister for sport after his 98th Test in charge of France since his appointment in November 1999, while Loffreda takes over English Premiership side Leicester Tigers, ending a seven-year spell with the Pumas.

The match is also expected to be the final Test for French trio Raphaël Ibanez, Christophe Dominici and Serge Betsen.

Playing in the bronze final is not the fairytale ending they had hoped for, the dream of winning a first world cup title on home soil shattered by their 14-9 loss to defending champions England in last weekend's semi-final.

Ibanez is the third most-capped French player (behind Fabien Pelous (118) and Philippe Sella (111)) with 97 Tests, having become the world's most-capped hooker in the opening 17-12 defeat by Argentina, surpassing former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick.

Fairytale finish for Robinson?

There has been much speculation that the world cup would be the final act in the Pumas jersey for captain Agustín Pichot, but the scrum half said on Thursday he would "very much like to do that (play his final game) in Argentina".

Pichot is 33, but his immense pride and passion has not dimmed in the 12 years since his debut, as highlighted by the images of him breaking down after Argentina's dream of a first world cup final ended against South Africa.

Team-mate Gonzalo Longo Elía is a confirmed retirement, with several other senior members likely to follow shortly after the tournament.

For England full back Jason Robinson a fairytale ending is still possible. The 33-year-old former rugby league star was one player to shine as England stuttered in their early matches.

Robinson could be joined in hanging up the red rose for the last time by Mike Catt and Lawrence Dallaglio, fellow world cup winners from 2003.

Farewell to Wallaby legends 

South Africa coach Jake White has hinted he may bow out if the Springboks lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time. Another coach departing is Pierre Berbizier, the man in charge of Italy returning to his native France and the club rugby with Metro Racing.

Arguably the most high profile retirement is that of Australia scrum half and former captain George Gregan, the world's most-capped player with 139 Tests – the last being their 12-10 quarter-final defeat by England.

He will join French second division club Toulon. Australia also farewell his half back partner Stephen Larkham.

The fly half, who played alongside Gregan a record 79 times in his 102 Tests, spent much of the world cup on the sidelines, playing only in the opener against Japan before twice going under the knife with a knee problem.

Few will forget the contribution Samoa's Brian Lima has made, the centre/wing becoming the only player to play in five world cups. Sadly for Lima his tournament ended on the sidelines with a suspension in a disappointing campaign for the Samoans.

Another player to bow out on a disappointing note was Denis Hickie, 31, the Ireland wing having announced on the eve of the tournament that he would retire from professional rugby when his team's campaign ended. Argentina made sure that was in the pool stages.

One last milestone

Italy scrum half Alessandro Troncon had harboured dreams of a first world cup quarter-final, but it ended with the 18-16 defeat by Scotland. Troncon, however, bows out of professional rugby after joining the century club with 101 Tests.

Two other national captains retiring are Canada scrum half Morgan Williams - along with his team-mate Mike James - and Georgia's Ilia Zedginidze, the second row deciding to retire after breaking his kneecap in their 14-10 defeat by Ireland.

However, while Williams and James bowed out having not tasted victory in France, Zedginidze's misfortune proved motivation enough for his team-mates to record a first ever RWC victory against Namibia 11 days later.

Romeo Gontineac – the only Romanian to play in four world cups – and Razvan Mavrodin have announced their international retirements, as has Namibia second row Domingo Kamonga. His team-mates Corne Powell, Herman Lindvelt and Deon Mouton are expected to follow suit.

One final mention must go to Portugal hooker Joaquim Ferreira, the 34-year-old veteran of 84 Tests who will never forget his final match, having marked the occasion with a try against Romania.

English referee Tony Spreadbury will also bow out of international competition but will continue to referee domestic rugby.

RNS kb/gs