The year 2003 is known by many to be the year of England’s greatest-ever triumph. Fans will remember the voice of commentator Ian Robertson as he screamed the immortal words, “He drops for World Cup glory”. With that still fresh in the minds of every England fan around the world today, it’s easy to forget what an incredible tournament it was for other nations – a nation, like Wales, for example.
A Wales side just off the back of the worst form in decades came into the tournament as serious underdogs, seemingly not fancied to do anything more than provide cannon fodder for the more reputable sides of the time.
With the inclusion of a very young Shane Williams and a prime Colin Charvis, Wales were ready to prove their critics wrong and take the tournament by the scruff of the neck.
In probably the game of the tournament, Wales gave us an insight into the skill and quality level that would persist over the next decade and beyond, making them one of the most feared sides in World Rugby.
Having been mercilessly destroyed 55 – 3 by the All Blacks some three months prior, the aforementioned Wales side came out fighting in this World Cup group stage match.
Having finished bottom of that year’s Six Nations, and facing a side that had won four out of four matches in the Tri-Nations, very few would have expected the Welsh to offer more than a limp hand at stopping the World Cup favourites.
In a game that exceeded all expectations and became an all-time classic, Wales took the game to the All Blacks in a 90-point fight that had us all on the edge of our seats.
In front of 80,000 fans, the All Blacks played to the script by taking an early lead as they led the men in red by 18 points heading up to halftime. It was the magic of a certain Shane Williams that altered the pattern of the game, as he turned on his left foot and darted through the New Zealand defence to set up a wonderful try – finished by Auckland-born Sonny Parker.
This led to a scintillating ten minutes of rugby as Wales charged over the line twice more through Colin Charvis, and the man himself, Shane Williams, to take the lead for the first time in the match.
Both sides would exchange scores with a total of 12 tries, 9 conversions, and 4 penalties between them by the end of the match.
It was the All Blacks that would take victory 53 points to 37. For Wales, however, it was the springboard that they built their future upon.
“We learned last summer that if you kick too much possession away, they have deadly runners. We kept the ball, went through the phases, ran the angles and the holes just seemed to be there.” young flanker Jonathan Thomas said after the game, in a comment that echoed Wales’ playing style for the rest of the 2000s.