- Johnson and Woodward salute England fans and back-room staff
- “It was a massive final, wasn’t it? I'm so proud of my guys” – George Gregan
Victorious England captain Martin Johnson shunned a chance to bask in the limelight after his side secured the 2003 Rugby World Cup, characteristically preferring to pay tribute to his team and their backroom staff.
Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal in the final seconds sealed the Webb Ellis trophy after a phenomenally tense final, Australia refusing to accept defeat after hauling their way back from 14-5 down.
Photo: Getty Images
But while Johnson was almost overwhelmed with exhaustion at the final whistle, he summoned the energy to congratulate the entire England set-up.
“It was a huge effort from the entire squad of players, our backroom staff, our coaches, our physios,” said the hulking Leicester Tigers lock. “Thanks to the fans as well – they’ve been brilliant.
“I can’t say enough about the team – we had a lead, then we lost it but came back in extra time. Then Wilko at the end – it was brilliant. I can’t say enough about them.”
“We were frustrated in the second half. You have to give credit to Australia – they are a very good team and they came back and made it difficult for us. With 20 minutes of extra time it can go either way but Wilko was there. Right at the death, you’d have no one else.
“I’m just happy for the players. They’ve put so much into it – their heart and soul. Australia have hosted a brilliant tournament and have played great, getting into the final themselves. It couldn’t have been any closer, but I’m just glad we were on the right side.”
Admirably gracious despite the gut-wrenching defeat, Wallaby skipper George Gregan stressed his immense pride at how hard his team had battled.
“It was a massive final, wasn’t it? Two world-class teams going at it hammer and tong,” he added. “Congratulations must be extended to the England team – they delivered under pressure when it counted.
“But I’m so proud of my guys. We gutted it out, we fought back from 14-5 and forced it to extra time.
Photo: Getty Images
“To all the support here, both Australian and English fans thank you for making it such a wonderful night. We came up just short.”
Clive Woodward had his own sincere compliments for the 82, 957-strong Telstra Stadium crowd, before bemoaning the manner in which “error after error” from his England had allowed Australia to claw back into the final.
However, after coming to his senses the head coach admitted World Cup glory had eased those niggling worries. Turning to the feeling among his players after 80 minutes, he revealed that composure and desire had never dimmed.
“At full-time when it was 14-all the right things were being said,” Woodward explained. “Johno was brilliant, [Lawrence] Dallaglio was brilliant, [Neil] Backy was brilliant. I’m speechless – a big thanks to all the players and everyone involved with English rugby.
“It’s been an awesome night and I’ll never forget this. Ever.”
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.