"Dad's Army" conquers the world
England became the only Northern Hemisphere side ever to win the Rugby World Cup in 2003 when a last-minute Jonny Wilkinson drop goal finally saw them edge a titanic 100-minute long arm wrestle against Australia 20-17 at the Telstra Dome in Sydney.
England’s “Dad’s Army” were forced to play 20 minutes of extra time thanks to an Elton Flatley penalty just shy of the 80-minute mark, but the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ of world rugby proved up to the task.
The mammoth English pack revelled in the wet conditions controlling the breakdown and lineout against the less experienced Wallabies pack. But despite trailing for most of the match the Wallabies never gave in.
With the scores locked at 17-all after 19 minutes of extra time it was the marksmanship of England’s Jonny Wilkinson that proved the difference. The England fly-half, who had missed with three earlier drop attempts, took Matt Dawson’s pass and calmly dropped the goal that clinched the World Cup.
England’s hero had delivered when it mattered most, and the Barmy Army were delirious in their appreciation.
Australia took the early lead with a try to wing Lote Tuqiri in the sixth minute but three unanswered penalty goals from Wilkinson and a try to wing Jason Robinson put England in the driver’s seat leading 14-5 at half-time.
But it was the Wallabies that set the tone for the first half moving the ball wide early, despite the wet conditions.
The final was only six minutes old when Australian fly-half Stephen Larkham put a kick to the left corner for Tuqiri to leap high for the ball and plant it over the try line for the first points of the match. Australia’s 5-0 lead coming off the back of two English misdemeanours in their own half.
Wilkinson registered his side’s first points with a penalty in the 12th minutes, sparking the English attack but solid defence from the Wallabies restricted play to their own side of half way,
Wilkinson’s second penalty on the 20-minute mark put England in front 6-5 as the pre-tournament favourites began to find their rhythm. A certain England try went begging in the 25th minute when flanker Richard Hill toed the ball through after an Australian mistake only to see second row Ben Kay knock on with the line wide open.
Wilkinson recovered from a know to his shoulder after a heavy tackle on replacement Australian fly-half Matt Giteau, who came on for a blood-binned Larkham, to collect his third three-pointer and give his side a 9-5 lead 13 minutes from the break.
When Robinson got around fellow league convert Wendell Sailor in the 37th minutes, England’s lead was extended to comfortable nine points going into the break.
The second half, however, was much more of an arm wrestle, with England enjoying the weight of possession, but failing to convert it into a single point. Errors crept in and stupid penalties were conceded.
Five penalties came for scrum offences despite them having Australia on the back foot, with Phil Vickery completely bemused by the interpretation of referee Andre Watson.
The lineout also began to waver, David Giffin’s introduction shoring up Australia’s ball while Steve Thompson struggled to find this own jumpers.
All this allowed Elton Flatley to keep the Wallabies in the game with his boot. He kicked his third penalty of the half in the last minute and the match went into extra-time.
Wilkinson made no mistake with his penalty attempt two minutes into extra time to give his side a 17-14 lead which they held at the break. The Wallabies responded by mounting several attacking raids through mainly Rogers and Tuqiri but the England defence held.
It was up to Flatley again to level the scores at 17-all through another penalty and with two minutes remaining. But it was England with the final say. The play was a combination of the tried and trusted, and a flash of inspiration from Matt Dawson.
The scrumhalf brilliantly sized up the situation after Mike Catt’s initial burst from Lewis Moody’s lineout take. A quick look up, and a perfect dummy and dart from the back of a ruck took England to within 15 metres of the Australian line.
Neil Back, filing in a scrumhalf, passed to Matin Johnson, who sensed Phil Waugh and George Smith were ready to pounce.
The captain took it up one more time before Dawson, with 26 seconds left, judged the precise moment to fire the ball back to Wilkinson for the match-winning three points.