Remembering England’s World Cup win in 2003
2003. The last – and only – time that England have won the Rugby World Cup. For the second time in World Cup history, it took extra time for the victor of the match to be decided. Their opponents were Australia, managed at the time by Eddie Jones, now head coach of the Red Roses. A memorable final, especially for that spectacular Jonny Wilkinson last-gasp drop-goal which sealed the victory, a slender 20-17. However, since then, the biggest international stage of Rugby Union has not been kind to England. A defeat in the 2007 final has been followed by a quarter-finals exit in 2011, and most recently, embarrassingly, England failed to get past the pool stage of the 2015 edition of the tournament.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup is now underway and for this English side, it’s all about redemption for their previous performance, which saw them finish third in the pools, having lost to Wales and Australia. It’s also time to transfer their successes in other tournaments to the Land of the Rising Sun at this year’s edition of the World Cup.
Let’s not forget that Jones has led the Red Roses to victory in back-to-back Six Nations tournaments, most memorably winning the Grand Slam in 2016. While in Rugby Union betting odds, England are among the favourites to lift the Web Ellis Cup this time around, with reigning champions New Zealand and resurgent South Africa side also up there. As we gear up to the climax of this year’s tournament, let’s take a look back at that memorable victory.
The road to Sydney
The group gods were shining on England, as they were drawn in Pool C. Alongside Georgia, who were making their debut in the competition; Uruguay, who’d made their maiden appearance in the previous edition, but failed to get out of the group; and a Samoan side on the decline, after two quarter-finals appearances; the main threat came from South Africa, who of course had lifted the Web Ellis Cup themselves, in 1995.
For the first time ever, a team other than New Zealand came into the World Cup as favourites and it looked as though the early predictions were to be accurate, as the Red Roses won all four of their pool games. There were thumping victories against the debutants, 84-6, and the South Americans, 111-13; while the margin against the Springboks was slightly more minimal, it was a tense win, 25-6.
As winners of Pool C, England took on the runners-up of Pool D, Wales, in the quarter-final. Things could have been so different for Sir Clive Woodward’s men, with the Dragons starting the brighter of the two and leading at the break. The difference was Jonny Wilkinson, the fly-half scoring 23 points to secure the win and put the Dragons fire out. The win set-up a tie against a recently revitalised French side, who themselves had topped their group, Pool B – and overcame Ireland in the quarter-finals.
Torrid conditions down under meant that the clash between England and France wasn’t the spectacle that had been anticipated – with the two nations adjudged to be among the most exciting and attacking sides in world Rugby. But Woodward’s side wouldn’t mind the torrential rain and hailing winds, as they ran rampant. Wilkinson once again was at the fore-front of everything, scoring all the points (with five penalties and three drop-goals) as the Red Roses won 24-7, to book them their first finals place since 1991.
2003 World Cup Final
Australia were the current holders of the Web Ellis Cup and throughout the tournament posed the biggest threat to Woodward’s side. In what is to this day, a memorable final, it took extra time – only the second time in World Cup Final history – to separate the Red Roses from the Wallabies.
Looking to retain the trophy and become the first nation to do so, Australia started dominantly. But before long, England were back in it. Both teams fought tooth-and-nail but it was England who went in ahead at the break. Woodward’s men started the second half as they ended the first: strongly. But before it looked as though they were set to pull away, the Wallabies hit back with Elton Flatley scoring a last-gasp penalty, just as the referee was due to call time. With the scores tied at 14-14, the two tired sides would face additional minutes.
Despite the best efforts of the host nation, England were not to be denied and who else, but hero of the World Cup, Wilkinson, to pop-up and score the winning drop-goal. Just 26 seconds away from going to sudden death, Wilkinson added to his personal points tally from the four penalties he had previously recorded, scoring his first drop-goal of the game – but they don’t come any more important than that.
The 40-year-old looks back at that time with fond memories, recently telling the BBC: “In 2000 I had been a rugby league player, being headhunted by England coach Clive Woodward and talking about this World Cup, knowing I could be part of it,
“Then three years down the line, I was there in the final. No other experience in rugby can match it,
“There are not many days when someone doesn’t tell me where they were on that day. To hear other people reminiscing about where they were makes you realise what an impact you had.”