Thompson wants starting role
Rejuvenated England hooker Steve Thompson is keen to be a key man at the World Cup.
Last Updated: 10/08/11 10:11pm
Four years ago, Steve Thompson was enjoying the trappings of retirement and never envisaged he would be back in an England jersey preparing to play in another Rugby World Cup.
Overweight, partial to a drink and enjoying a relaxed lifestyle in France, the 2003 World Cup-winner had no desire to play rugby again after falling out of love with the sport.
Thompson's retirement had been prompted by a serious neck injury and a warning that he risked paralysis if he did hit another scrum. It was almost a relief.
But less than a year later, Thompson's competitive juices started flowing again.
After receiving a positive second opinion on his neck, Thompson paid back £500,000 in insurance money and set out on his comeback and the road to the World Cup.
The 33-year-old has already guaranteed himself a place in England's 30-man squad for the tournament.
On Saturday, in England's second World Cup warm-up international against Wales in Cardiff, Thompson will set out to reclaim the starting hooker's jersey from Dylan Hartley.
"Four years ago I was drunk and a lot heavier. I was enjoying my time off and retired life," recalled Thompson.
"I was quite happy, I wasn't depressed or anything like that. At the time I openly said I'd fallen out of love with rugby. I was just battered and burnt out.
"From there the neck injury and the break came all at once and I was just enjoying not having to do fitness, being sick and that kind of thing.
"Now I have the fire back in my belly. I think I can (get the starting jersey back). We all do, that's the strength of this squad.
"If anything this squad is more competitive now than it has been in a long while so if you get an opportunity now you have to take it.
"We've all got to push each other; that's what it comes down to. If you play as well as you can you always have a chance of playing in the next Test."
England manager Martin Johnson will finalise his line-up for Saturday's second warm-up international on Thursday, with Thompson's inclusion set to be among a number of changes from last weekend's 23-19 victory.
Hartley was England's first-choice hooker last season while Lee Mears, a British and Irish Lion in 2009, has been in impressive form during the summer training camp.
"We have strength in depth in all positions and if someone is off their game they will be dropped and someone will come in and take the opportunity," said Thompson.
"In 2003 you were always nervous. Although people were saying they knew what the squad would be, you never know until it's named.
"You can't take anything for granted. That's exactly how it feels at the moment.
"As an old head looking around the squad there are going to be some very disappointed people because everyone in the squad deserves to go. To drop 10 out at this stage is pretty harsh."