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RWC 2003 HIGHLIGHTS – Wilkinson drops for World Cup glory

22 November 2013

  • Jonny Wilkinson kicks England to Webb Ellis trophy in final seconds of extra time
  • Australia claw back from 14-5 down but come up just short

Jonny Wilkinson slotted a nerveless drop-goal in the last seconds of extra time to see off a resolute challenge from Australia and seal the 2003 Rugby World Cup in sensational fashion for England.

Martin Johnson lifts the Webb Ellis trophy

Photo: Getty Images

Wilkinson’s right-footed effort provided the final score of a terrific, tumultuous contest on a wet night at Sydney’s Telstra Stadium, putting his side 20-17 ahead after the Wallabies had courageously battled back from a deficit of 14-5. 

With the clock running past the 100-minute mark, the tournament favourites only needed to recover a kick-off and recycle the ball for Mike Catt to boot it into the 82,957-strong crowd – which they managed with typical efficiency before leaping around in unadulterated delight. The Webb Ellis trophy belonged to England.

That said, it had been the hosts that had started brighter almost two hours previously. A towering cross-field kick by Steven Larkham pitted rugby league converts Lote Tuqiri and Jason Robinson against each other in a lop-sided aerial battle. 

For all his phenomenal footwork and electric attacking throughout this competition, Robinson was helpless the Fijian-born wing – all of seven inches taller than him – soared to collect Larkham’s bomb before dotting down easily.

In what proved to be the sole blemish on a performance that brought him 12 points from the tee, Elton Flatley struck the post with his conversion attempt, meaning the score remained at 5-0. Rather than be rattled by an inauspicious opening though, England slowly but surely took a grip on the game. 

Lote Tuqiri rises above Jason Robinson to score

Photo: Getty Images

As so often this year, the power of Martin Johnson’s pack was the catalyst and South African referee Andre Watson was forced to award a penalty on 11 minutes when back-rowers Phil Waugh and David Lyon breakdown entered a breakdown illegally to spoil front-foot possession.

Wilkinson made no mistake from close to 50 metres, and then put Clive Woodward’s men 6-5 up to finish the first quarter, punishing Larkham’s early tackle on Ben Cohen in a near-identical position inside the halfway line.

Captain Johnson was then the unlikely instigator for England’s first try-scoring opportunity, his manic line-speed causing Nathan Sharpe to spill Brendan Cannon’s poor pass. The loose ball was hacked on by the effervescent Richard Hill, who re-gathered just 10 metres out. 

Neil Back, Josh Lewsey and Matt Dawson did brilliantly to move it right despite the worsening conditions, but Ben Kay inexplicably knocked on from barely five metres out with the whitewash at his mercy.

The glaring error was quickly forgotten though, England eking out a scrum penalty for Wilkinson to make it 9-5 before Robinson his 18th Test try.

Jason Robinson celebrates his score

Photo: Getty Images

Lawrence Dallaglio tore furiously around the corner to commit Stirling Mortlock and Wendell Sailor, finding Wilkinson on his inside with an excellent off-load. With Cohen also in support, the Newcastle fly half retained his characteristic, clinical calm, drawing full back Mat Rogers and slipping Robinson into plenty of space.

Wilkinson’s radar skewed for the ensuing conversion, but holding onto a 14-5 half-time lead should have been relatively straightforward for an outfit in such fine form. 

However, that presumption would have been to bargain without the grim grit ingrained in Australia’s sporting DNA. Comprehensively outfought in the first period, the Wallaby pack was roused into a much more robust display by their excellent skipper George Gregan.

Twice Flatley capitalised after infringements on the floor, and although England still enjoyed a healthy share of possession and territory, Wilkinson saw a drop-goal sail wide.

Elton Flatley lands a penalty to take the final into extra time

Photo: Getty Images

At 14-11 behind, Australia were within touching distance, and when Watson adjudged that Phil Vickery had folded at a scrum, Flatley again demonstrated his icy unflappability. 

Dissecting the posts 15 metres in from the right-hand touchline, the Queensland Reds centre completed a dogged Wallaby fightback and hand England a sucker-punch – Watson’s final whistle bringing two 10-minute spells that would decide the destination of the World Cup.

Wilkinson and Flatley again traded efforts from the tee either side of the interval – England’s penalty from 55 metres after a messy lineout, Australia’s coming when Dallaglio fell into the side of a ruck. With both sets of players exhausted, Rogers cannoned a clearance into touch close to the 22 – a perfect launchpad. 

Lewis Moody claimed Steve Thompson’s throw at the tail, allowing Wilkinson to launch Catt into midfield. A dart from Dawson brought England close. Wilkinson stepped back into the pocket. For a truly outstanding side built on deliberate, rock-solid structure and meticulous preparation over an arduous four-year cycle, it was a truly fitting finish.

This feature is part of RFU.com's series celebrating the 10-year anniversary of England's 2003 Rugby World Cup win. You can highlights and reaction from all the matches on this website.