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Thompson ready for battle

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. But now the 33-year-old has already guaranteed himself a place in England's 30-man squad for the tournament in New Zealand.

On Saturday, in England's second warm-up international against Wales in Cardiff, Thompson will set out to reclaim the starting hooker's jersey from Dylan Hartley. He recalled: "Four years ago I was drunk and a lot heavier. I was enjoying my time off and retired life."

He added: "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.

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