RUGBY WORLD CUP 2003: ENGLAND - History Beckons Leonard

Article excerpt

Byline: Frank Malley

When Jason Leonard trundles down the tunnel at the Suncorp stadium here on Sunday he will make all of England proud --and one particular Frenchman just a shade sad.

The Harlequins prop will make his 111th world record-equalling appearance for England in the World Cup quarter-final showdown against Wales and there could hardly be a more passionate backdrop for such a magical milestone.

On Sunday night he is almost certain to get a call from the legendary former French centre Philippe Sella --the other man to have played 111 internationals.

Leonard said: 'He's coming over here and I think he's quite content that I finish on 111 and call it a day there.

'His exact words to me were that if I did the party would be in Agen and it would all be on him. I'm not sure I can be bribed that much.'

The fact is there is no way Leonard --the master exponent of the 'I only look as far as the next game' quote --is considering anything other than appearing in the World Cup final in Sydney on November 22.

Will he quit then?

'I've not thought about anything past this World Cup,' he says. 'I'll sit down and think about it after that. The only thing you can be definitely sure of is that I won't be playing in the next World Cup.

'I'm more surprised than anyone else to have lasted so long. You can't sit down and think how long you are going to be playing or how many caps you are going to get. I grew up with people who were happy to get 15 caps or in the twenties or thirties. That was an exceptional England career.

'It gets harder each year. Once the enthusiasm goes for being prepared to get up early in the morning and train, leave the family for weeks on end, then it's time to call it a day.

'But this World Cup has been great fun. I've enjoyed every single day. I know plenty of people who go to work and they have a terrible day in the office. I've got a great job, I play rugby.'

That's typical Leonard, who has demonstrated the prop forward's art with such dignity and aggression since winning his first cap against Argentina in Buenos Aires in 1990 in a match he describes as 'the toughest, most vicious game I've ever played in'.

It is bound to be pretty tastyon Sunday, though anyone wondering if here was a hint of sentiment in Leonard's selection over Trevor Woodman should listen to England head coach Clive Woodward.

'To equal the world record is a tremendous achievement,' said Woodward. 'Jason is a fantastic guy to be with on or off the field. What you see is what you get and there has been no sentiment in his selection whatsoever.

'He is back in the team on merit. …