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Looking back in history - 20 years today since England’s famous World Cup victory

BY Jack Tunney  ·  Wednesday Nov 22, 2023

20 years ago today Jonny Wilkinson slotted home the extra time drop goal that would secure World Cup victory for England for the first ever time.

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82,957 fans packed into Stadium Australia in Sydney on a humid Australian summer night to witness history firsthand. Millions more sat in front of their chunky TV sets back home, hoping and praying that the boys return from the other side of the world with the trophy safely strapped up.

Ask any England fan born after 1997 and they’ll likely be able to tell you where they were during the most intense ever 120 minutes of English rugby.

The voice of Ian Robertson’s immense commentary on that day in 2003 still rings in the ears of so many fans around England.

“This is the one, it’s coming back for Jonny Wilkinson…”

“He drops for World Cup glory… IT’S UP, IT’S OVER, HE’S DONE IT!”

Have a look back at the lead up, and the match itself:

Journey to the final

Pool Match 1: England 84-6 Georgia
Pool Match 2: England 25-6 South Africa
Pool Match 3: England 35-22 Samoa
Pool Match 4: England 111-13 Uruguay
Quarter Final: England 28-17 Wales
Semi Final: England 24-7 France
Final: England 20-17 Australia

World Cup Final England Line Up

Starting Team:

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15 Josh Lewsey
14 Jason Robinson
12 Mike Tindall
13 Will Greenwood
11 Ben Cohen
10 Jonny Wilkinson
9 Matt Dawson
8 Lawrence Dallaglio
7 Neil Back
6 Richard Hill downward-facing red arrow 93′
5 Ben Kay
4 Martin Johnson (c)
3 Phil Vickery downward-facing red arrow 81′
2 Steve Thompson
1 Trevor Woodman

Replacements:
16 Dorian West
17 Jason Leonard
18 Martin Corry
19 Lewis Moody
20 Kyran Bracken
21 Mike Catt
22 Iain Balshaw

Coach:
England Clive Woodward

BBC match report of the time

England have won the Rugby World Cup, beating Australia 20-17 in a game which is already entering the history books as one of the country’s great moments of sporting triumph.

The final, in Sydney, was won just 26 seconds from the end of the match, with a breathtaking drop goal by Newcastle fly-half and youngest member of the squad, Jonny Wilkinson.

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It is the first time a northern hemisphere side has won the world title.

Australia battled hard and were never out of the game, but after 100 minutes of rugby and a dramatic extra-time finale the England team wrestled away the cup by the slimmest of margins.

Nailbiting

England showed no signs of the weakness they were criticised for when kicked out by South Africa in the last World Cup.

After Australian winger Lote Tuqiri opened the scoring with just six minutes on the clock, three Wilkinson penalties quickly turned the tables. England were 14-5 ahead.

The game was often nailbitingly close as Australia levelled twice more – once at 80 minutes with a last-gasp penalty from Elton Flatley, and again at 97 minutes when the two sides were 17-17, again down to Flatley’s efforts, pushing the game into extra time.

Three minutes later, and with a sudden death shoot-out just seconds away, it was all over as Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal brought England the World Cup.

Even Wilkinson dropped his normal cool poise, leaping into the arms of fellow player Mike Catt.

Rugby superstar

Soon afterwards, at 2244 local time (1144 GMT), the England captain, Martin Johnson, stepped forward to receive rugby’s greatest prize.

The biggest cheer, unsurprisingly, was saved for Wilkinson, who by that stage could not stop smiling.

The 24-year-old is already being hailed as rugby’s first superstar. He is England’s all-time record points scorer and has just been voted international player of the year for the second year running.

“He is a very special player, a very special person,” said Johnson.

He also spoke of his joy at lifting the Webb Ellis trophy, the first captain of his country to do so.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” he said. “It will take a few days to sink in – it is fantastic for all the players, the management and the whole of England.”

Highlights + Extended Highlights

 

Jonny Wilkinson on the famous drop goal

“I’m just feeling the ball, then I set the ball down and drop it and as it drops the ball turns ever so slightly towards me and forwards,” he remembers of the kick, which added to the four penalties he also recorded in the match.

“If it goes too far towards me it will change the kick completely but it’s gone just a tiny bit which means I am going to miss the sweet spot of the ball but I’ll catch it just underneath which means it will spin a lot quicker, it will go a lot shorter but it will be a hell of a lot straighter.

“I can feel my leg going back but it’s not me kicking it, it’s a knowing of it. As I hit the ball the sensation is what I knew it was going to be.

“It’s only when the ball gets a few yards past the post I then realise what the hell has happened and I do this half-hearted celebration which is almost disbelief because I hadn’t been there to really see it.

“It led it to be – not a memory that I treasure because I don’t have much memory of it – but just an experience which gave me a glimpse of life a little bit outside the boundaries of what I thought was possible – something bigger.”

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