Sixteen years have passed but the 2003 rugby World Cup will never be forgotten

“They’ve caught it as they start to attack, as Dawson goes through makes a wonderful break tackled 50 meters from the line Backs there, Wilkinson will drop for goal, no Martin Johnson has it he drives, there’s 35 seconds to go, this is the one it’s coming back for Jonny Wilkinson he drops for World Cup glory, it’s up its over, he has done it, Jonny Wilkinson is England’s hero yet again.”

Regardless of whether you are a rugby fan or not you will know exactly where you were when Ian Robertson shouted those memorable worlds from Stadium Australia 16 years ago at the Rugby World Cup final. One drop goal that will never be forgotten.

Times have changed and although Robertson will not be involved this time around, England are hopeful to repeat the success of 2003 in Japan this Autumn. 

England’s achievement Down-Under was a heroic display of hard work, determination, reliance and the belief that they were the best side in the world, nevertheless the route to Australia wasn’t plain sailing. 

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Following the international triumph of the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, the media coverage intensified and the sport went professional partly due to the global battle between media giants Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. However, in 2002 England went on strike just six days before a test match over the amount of commercial advertisements they were being asked to doing and how little they were being finically rewarded.

Following England’s disappointment in the previous two World Cups, Clive Woodward’s team were a side at their peak heading into the 2003 tournament, a side whose athleticism and pure determination held them in such valuable position. 

‘Cliveisms’ is a word that surrounded the England training camps. The coach soon became as much as an English rugby legend as his players; he was like any coach put under criticism but the tactical nous made him one of rugby’s most successful coaches.

There were a lot of sporting icons that came following the success of 2003, but none more so Mr Jonathan Wilkinson. Irrespective of whether you are an avid rugby follower or not you will know who Wilkinson is. 

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Aged just eight years old, a young Jonny wrote down a list of goals he personally wanted to achieve following the 1987 World Cup what he calls ‘essay like’ goals.

“I wanted to play for England, I wanted to be the kicker, I wanted to win a World Cup, I wanted to be the best that there ever was, I was so sure of what I wanted to be.”

So, let’s rewind to the start of 22ndNovember 2003. Australia in their own back garden were clearly favourites however, the crowd wasn’t just golden and as the anthems were sung an echo of pride and passion from England rung around the stadium. 

Wilkinson took raptures of catcalls in the first half, the Aussie’s had seen enough of him and rather he been sat on the replacements bench. Despite Australia’s early try, Wilkinson’s boot kept England ahead of the men in gold. 

78 minutes gone and 14 all. Four years of immediate preparation and many more building up all coming down to the last two minutes. But thus, no change in the score and for the first time in rugby World Cup history we go to extra time. 

The blood pressure of every English fan anywhere had just risen and two ten minute periods stood between World Cup glory and insufferable defeat. 

England took the lead after the first ten minutes and nerves started to settle down. 

When Australia levelled at 97 minutes the feeling on nausea sat in the stomachs of everyone watching, maybe we might have to go to a penalty kick shoot-out. 

But then a moment of pure magic, kicking off his unfamiliar right foot the eight-year-old Wilkinson lived out his World Cup dream. 

“It’s coming back for Jonny Wilkinson he drops for World Cup glory.” 

2003 can never be repeated and nor should it be expected to; the pure resilience of the England team and the enormity of the task that they undertook and thus achieved in the era that they did helped shaped English rugby union to what it has become today. 

Eddie Jones and his men have a momentous challenge awaiting them in Japan this September, an opportunity to repeat the success of 2003 and become only the second England side to win a rugby World Cup. 

What lies ahead will be a gruelling test of pure commitment to the game, but if they do achieve the accolade they too will have a place in history.

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