Worsley bows out battered but illustrious

On the morning when Simon Shaw’s transfer to Toulon was confirmed, Wasps also had to announce the news that their back row forward Joe Worsley had been forced to hang up his boots.

Speaking to Worsley back in September, the uncertainty in his voice towards when he was likely to return was unnerving. The manner in which he spoke about the moment when he broke down once again in training with England at the pre-Rugby World Cup camp felt solemn. A lot like his former England teammate Lewis Moody, Worsley finds himself living in a battered body that can no longer operate as he wants it to. It is a safe argument to suggest that those players who have earned the most respect of colleagues, fans and pundits, are the men who have picked up the greatest damage.

In a sense, his eventual tally of 78 caps for England comes as a surprise. Constantly battling on the fringes of the national team for selection, Worsley’s ability to play all across the back row arguably worked against him. He found himself fighting for a place in the side early on with the holy triumvirate of Hill, Back and Dallaglio, and once those legends were gone, the new wave of Pat Sanderson, Moody, Martin Corry and Nick Easter.

Caught between two generations, the fact that he started over 50 matches is impressive, with his longest runs coming at number 8 in 2001-2002 and at flanker in England’s lean years between 2004 until and after the 2007 Rugby World Cup. It would be his third run-out on the world’s biggest stage, although he failed to surpass the glory of picking up a winner’s medal in 2003.

As much as his England career stuttered, one area where Worsley was never off the teamsheet was at his club, London Wasps. Having been at the club for 18 years, since the age of 16, the black and yellow is in his blood. Heineken Cup and domestic glory immortalised him. He was there for the semi-final against Munster, Howley’s dramatic try at Twickenham, and again in 2007 for the sweetest of victories in the Heineken final once again, this time over Leicester Tigers. These inclusions at the club’s greatest moments in history are no coincidence.

The respect he earned was down to his immense physicality in defence. Former and current teammates will be sad to hear of his retirement, whilst those who were on the receiving end of one of his big tackles will probably receive the news with both a smile and wince. It was his ability to put in the big hits, along with his skills at the breakdown, that saw him return to the England side in 2009, picked at 7 for the opening game of the Six Nations to give Wales nightmares. It would be the beginning of a rise that season that saw him capped for the first time by the British & Irish Lions at the age of 32. The win in the third Test over South Africa was arguably his international swansong.

Back to the present, Shaw is now in Toulon for one last hurrah in one of the most pleasant environments to be found in European rugby. For Worsley there is no final sojourn, his body will not permit it. Would he have it any other way? Doubtful. Once a Wasp…

by Ben Coles

9 thoughts on “Worsley bows out battered but illustrious

  1. Always worked hard and put in a shift. But for me he’ll always be remembered as someone i wasn’t happy to see on the England team sheet, he wasn’t skillfull enough to cut it at the top level.

    “gave wales nightmares”… they still won. That game he just man marked Jamie Roberts, probably one of the most conservative selection/tactical decisions i’ve ever seen. Pretty much meant we played a man down in the pack. Exemplifies a time when England were very low on self belief. Although Worzle did a brilliant job what he was assigned so must applaud him for that.

    1. agreed.

      looking at the talent we have out there, i am hopeful for Eng.

      If you look at modern back rows there is a move away from huge lumps to slightly smaller lumps – kaino, pocock, Read etc who are quick to keep up with the increased speed fi the modern game.

      Thats something we lacked in the RWC.

      1. how is it effective if we lose? It didn’t give them nightmares because they new all the focus on Roberts meant space elsewhere that they happily exploited.

        1. Effective because he did his job. Marked him out of the game. A player can carry out his task and yet still up on the wrong side of the result.

  2. Another good servant of the game, and what he did do was play to the maximum of his ability. You can’t fault anyone for that. Not every player is supremely talented in all areas of the game and I therfore have great respect for those that make the most of what they have.

    Perhaps some members of the England RWC squad should read these words.

  3. I remember with pride his performance in the 2004 heineken cup final. While many will remember the dramatic last minute try by Howley – I will marvel for many more years at the best tackling performance I’ve ever witnessed. I know it is a cliche but I swear there were 2 or 3 Worsleys on the field.

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