2003 Australia

2010-10-25 20:52
England celebrates an emphatic World Cup win, their first. (AP)

Originally planned to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, all games were shifted to Australia following a contractual dispute over ground signage rights between the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and Rugby World Cup Limited. The pre-event favourites were England and New Zealand, with France, South Africa and defending champions Australia all expected to make strong showings.

In retrospect, many believe that the 2003 World Cup was the best yet, with excellent on field and off field excitement, tension and fervour. The knock-out quarter-final stage produced the widely predicted set of semi-finalists, although England again made heavy weather of defeating a resurgent Wales. England were widely rated the world's best team, but they struggled against a Welsh side full of belief after their game against New Zealand. France destroyed an Irish side who had gone into the match hopeful of a win, scoring 31 early points to put the game out of reach. In the other quarter-finals, a disappointing South Africa fell to New Zealand and Australia defeated the Scots.

The first semi-final produced an upset, when Australia defeated the hugely fancied New Zealand to become the first defending champions to reach the following championship final. The match was decided by a Stirling Mortlock interception try, after a loose pass from highly-rated All Blacks fly-half, Carlos Spencer. The second semi-final saw France face England. The boot of Jonny Wilkinson was the difference between the two sides, with England coming out victors.

Champions: From the beginning, only one team looked to have brought their A-game to the party, and, led by the sheer and absolute tactical brilliance of Jonny Wilkinson's boot, the English were dominant throughout. The final, however, was a thrilling affair, in which Australia drew first blood, but allowed England back into the match to lead 14-5 at half time.

The second half not only promised much, but delivered way beyond expectation, as the Australians fought hard to retain their title by tightening their discipline, and forcing mistakes from England. The game swung from end to end, with both sides having try-scoring opportunities, but neither able to take them. Australia managed to get points on the board and Elton Flatley  scored two penalties to make the score 14-11 to England. In the 79th minute, Australia were putting pressure on England in their half. England had a scrum and just needed to keep hold of the ball until time elapsed. Several scrums were reset after the front rows failed to engage properly and finally, the referee, André Watson, gave a controversial penalty to Australia, despite England's scrum dominating the rest of the game. Flatley converted it with the last kick of normal time to tie the score 14-14 and take it to 20 minutes' extra time.

England opened the scoring in extra time with another Wilkinson penalty, but with two and a half minutes of extra time remaining Australia were awarded another penalty, which Flatley kicked successfully. With 21 seconds left before sudden death, Wilkinson scored a drop goal to win the match and with it the world championship.

Tournament Star
Jonny Wilkinson, not only for amassing 112 points during the tournament, but also for his tactical brilliance and nerves of steel that sealed his team's first ever Web Ellis trophy.

Notable moments
During the first semi-final between Australia and New Zealand, Aussie prop Ben Darwin almost fatally injured his neck in a scrum. Although Darwin never played rugby again the actions of Kees Meeuws  - who immediately stopped exerting pressure when he heard the call "neck neck neck" - may well have saved his opponent's life and certainly prevented further injury.


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