Wilkinson kicks England to Rugby World Cup glory
Graham Jenkins reports from the Telstra Stadium
November 22, 2003
Jonny Wilkinson slots the winning drop-goal
© Getty Images
England clinched the Rugby World Cup crown with a dramatic 20-17 victory over Australia at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney and once again fly-half Jonny Wilkinson was their hero - sealing their historic triumph with a drop goal in the last minute of extra-time.
With victory, Clive Woodward's side become the first northern hemisphere side to claim the game's ultimate prize in what was arguably the greatest finale to a World Cup. In the end, after 100 minutes of bruising and breath-taking rugby it was England's No.10 that once again proved the key, slotting the close range effort to snuff out the Wallabies' brave defence of their crown and break the hearts of the home crowd.
A mass of gold and white fans packed the Telstra Stadium and not even the persistent rain in the hours before kick off could dampen their spirits. A venomous defensive display saw England dominate the opening period and go into the break 14-5 ahead.
The rain had made the conditions very slippery and along with the nerves ensured we had an edgy opening few minutes as both sides looked to find their feet. An uncharacteristic piece of indiscipline from England laid the foundation for the opening score of the match after only five minutes. Prop Trevor Woodman was caught swinging an arm into a ruck by the touch judge and it undid some good work that saw England storm into Australia's half.
Instead back we came for the infringement, and the Wallabies looked to increase the pressure by opting to kick for the lineout. England were penalised again at the lineout, this time for extra numbers and suddenly the Wallabies were pushing for reward inside the 22.
A superb cross kick from Stephen Larkham set up a contest between Lote Tuqiri and Jason Robinson on the try line and the taller Australian came out on top to touch down for the try as Josh Lewsey battled in vain to support his beaten team-mate. Flatley's conversion attempt to ensure the maximum reward hit the upright but the game was now alive.
England continued to struggle to find their rhythm as Australia got the better of the exchanges, limiting the damage Woodward's side could do at the gain line.
But a moment of indiscipline from Phil Waugh at the break down gave Wilkinson the opportunity to get his side on the scoreboard and he duly obliged from 40 metres out in front of the posts. The England forwards continued to lead the revival, taking two lineouts against the throw, and forcing the Wallabies to back peddle. Larkham picked up an injury off the ball and was penalised for it to add insult to injury. Wilkinson stepped up to slot the penalty from a near identical position to his first. Larkham in the meant time headed to the blood bin to be stitched up, and Australia's rhythm appeared to go with him
England were growing in confidence, and a big hit from Wilkinson on replacement flyhalf Matt Giteau set up another foray into Australia's half. A chip and chase forced Tuqiri back to cover but he conjured a clever piece of defending to send the on-rushing Lewsey over his head before clearing. England continued to press and another big hit, this time on Sharpe by Johnson, gave Wilkinson the room to attempt the drop goal. But the effort with his favoured left boot sailed wide.
England then had the chance of the match to really take control but the conditions and a bout of white line fever for Ben Kay meant yet another chance was gone. Richard Hill made the initial break from the breakdown, hacking the ball ahead, the cover was there but so was the swarming England attack. They secured the ball and it went through the hands to the England lock when it looked like all he had to do was secure the ball ad crash over. However he was unable to do either.
England's efforts didn't drop, and some more good work from the forwards forced another penalty from the Wallabies' pack that Wilkinson sent over to extend his side' lead to 9-5. But England were not having their tightest of games up front and Trevor Woodman was penalised on the half hour at the scrum for some illegal binding. Flatley looked to reduce the arrears but his effort drifted wide.
Larkham returned to the game but by this stage England were in control with the impressive Mike Tindall causing mayhem in the Australian line. Robinson grabbed an opportunity to stretch the lead even further before the break and atone for his part in Tuqiri's earlier try. With the Wallabies stretched Lawrence Dallaglio made huge gains, the ever present Wilkinson was in support, and Robinson popped up to slide in at the corner to claim his 16th Test try, much to the delight of the winger.
Wilkinson was unable to add the extras from out wide, but England were on a roll now, and had Matt Dawson opted to pass to flying winger Ben Cohen instead of chipping ahead they may have even grabbed another try before the break. As it was they didn't and half-time can too soon for Woodward's side.
England continued to dispel their 'boring' tag after the break with multiple phases of attack, peppering the Wallabies' line, with skipper Martin Johnson leading by example.
However, it was Australia who stopped the rot with the opening score of the second half. A long lineout from England bounced loose and Dallaglio was penalised as he tried to scramble the ball back at the breakdown. Up stepped Flatley to spark life into the Wallabies. By this stage David Giffin had replaced Nathan Sharpe and Australia had re-discovered how to lineout, and as the rain began to fall once again things started to fall their way.
At the same time England seemed to lose their way, a crossing penalty gave Flatley another chance for three but his effort fell short this time. Tindall continued with the good work to justify his selection and helped to take the pressure of his flyhalf with some timely clearances with the boot.
The little mistakes continued to litter England's game as the conditions refused to relent. Next up it was Vickery who was fingered by referee Andre Watson for slowing the ball down at the breakdown, and this time Flatley made no mistake to pull his side back to within three points.
England captain Martin Johnson hoists the sport's biggest prize - the Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
The last ten minutes were a fierce territorial battle with England looking to kill the game off and Australia fighting fore their lives. Wilkinson pulled a drop goal wide as the nerves bit in and replacement hooker Jeremy Paul produced a couple of bursts to give his side some hope. England looked confident in defence, with Dawson causing mischief with a short side break from his own 22, but this game was far from over.
Yet another penalty at the scrum, this time at the most crucial time then gifted the Wallabies another life. Under immense pressure Flatley slotted the kick with the last kick of normal to send us into extra time and the Wallaby supporters into delirium. Both sides went into a huddle in a bid the rally themselves for the twenty minutes that was to come.
England grabbed the first opportunity to edge ahead again when Justin Harrison was penalised for pulling Johnson down at the first lineout. Wilkinson stepped up to show nerves of steel, or is that no nerves at all, to notch the three points from 45m.
Catt continued to cause trouble for the Wallabies' defence, but another no hope pass from Woodman took the wind out of a promising England attack deep inside their opponents' 22.
England continued to press for the opening period of extra time but drop goal efforts from both Catt and Wilkinson sailed agonisingly wide to ensure this game would really go down to the wire. But there was drama left in this game yet, Johnson was the guilty party as England desperately looked to snuff out the Wallabies. The penalty gave Flatley one more chance to pull his side back from the dead. His kick was as straight and true as his earlier effort and the scores were tied once more.
England had the ball at the re-start with a couple of minutes to rescue a win that their hard work deserved. The kick went deep and Rogers' clearance gave England the lineout position to build from. As expected they drove infield for position, then Dawson conjured a break jumping through a gap next to the ruck to take play into the 22. With Wilkinson in the pocket, Dawson bided his time before feeding his flyhalf with a perfect pass, and England's No.10 slotted the drop goal.
There were only seconds left in the game and when Woodman jumped to collect the Wallabies' re-start the ball only had to be punted into touch to end the game.
The curtain fell on RWC'03 with the world's No.1 ranked team as World Champions thanks largely to the boot of the game's best player - Jonny Wilkinson.
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