Will Greenwood watches 2003 Rugby World Cup final for the first time

Will Greenwood
Will Greenwood's memories of the greatest day of his career had been wiped by the tumult of the occasion until he relived it

One of the greatest days of my life, and I have never watched the match back in full. I probably never will. I have zero memories of what happened on the field. I don’t want to alarm people, as I remember many matches, but this one I do not recall because of the tumult of the occasion and because I didn’t think I had a great game, so I’ve never brought myself to watch it. I watched this as if it were the first time I’d seen the game in my life.

What I do know is that once we walked out onto the field, the rest of it was easy. Not winning, but playing with that team was easy. We just knew that we would all be doing our jobs to a high standard and that it would take a bloody good team to beat us – which Australia nearly did.

Despite the magnitude of the occasion, everything was the same: the same music on the bus on the way in; the same warm-up (which was always too hard!). There was a smattering of rain, which was disappointing. I loved playing in the dry. That England team were not just a bunch of forwards as people said. We scored loads of tries. We were the best in the world – and we proved it.

Martin Johnson sets the tone

Score: 0-0

With André Waton’s “guys, enjoy the game” acting as the game’s prologue, the left boot of Jonny Wilkinson gets the match under way, with a long restart to the right side of the pitch. Skipper Martin Johnson leads the charge, chopping the Australian catcher, Nathan Sharpe.

WG: The first thing, and it’s why he’s our captain, but why is the slowest bloke over 100 metres making the first tackle? That’s just what Johnno did. Nowadays, it is Will Jordan or Cheslin Kolbe. They’re the kick-chasers; 10-second 100-metre runners with a rolling start. Somewhere deep down … I always remember, how has he made the first tackle? It’s a deep restart, too, and he bumps someone off to get there – he had no shoulders after all those years! – and there he is. You could ask where our wing and back row are, but it’s unbelievable. He did the same in extra time, I think. It was why he was such a great captain – actions not words.

England’s scrum dominance starts to show

Score: 5-9

After two Jonny Wilkinson penalties give England a slender lead, the favourites turn the screw. The scrum dominance, still with paltry rewards, continues, but rather than opt to hammer home their mastery in this facet, England choose three points instead of gambling and pushing for a penalty try.

WG: On a normal day – I’ve spoken to Johnno about this – we would have taken another scrum, and pushed for a penalty try and yellow card. But we just couldn’t be sure that Watson would give it. Normally, when you’re pumping them at the scrum like we were, you’d go again; yellow card and penalty try. Kill the game. I always remember that Johnno was not allowed to speak to Watson on the day – all comms had to go through Matt Dawson. Clive did not want a 20-stone bloke towering over a shorter ref on the big screen. He wanted to keep him away.

Robinson’s expert finish

Score: 5-14

A botched line-out does not hamper the effort. Ben Kay sweeps up the loose ball and, two phases later, Dallaglio steams round the corner, silkily feeding Wilkinson inside, before the fly-half sets Robinson on a path to the tryline – England’s first and only in the final.

WG: All kids should watch Wilkinson’s end-over-end pass in wet weather – no spin – and Robinson diving five yards early. As soon as he hits the deck, Rogers can’t touch him. He first grounds the ball three yards short. That’s finishing. Smothering the ball. That was the detail that set him apart – and us as a team.

The unseen moment that set England up for glory

Score: 17-17

In the second half, before extra time begins, the Wallabies fight back. Elton Flatley kicks three penalties – the final one coming in the 80th minute from a contentious scrum call that sends Johnson into a frenzy – and suddenly England’s first-half dominance has melted. After a cagey extra-time period, both Flatley and Wilkinson exchange penalties, before the line-out that ignites England’s thrilling finale.

WG: That line-out, leading to the drop goal, came from Lewis Moody. He pressured Rogers’ clearance and the full-back shanked it. His head went straight down. If Moodos doesn’t do that then Rogers is kicking down the channel and we’d have to try and win the match from our own half, rather than close to the Australian 22. Earlier in the tournament, Moodos did the same against South Africa, leading to my try. No feeling of self-preservation, taking off at full tilt, unbelievable. That’s the moment that led to the drop goal.

Jonny does it

Score: 17-20 (aet)

Kay calls the line-out to the tail, with Moody again playing the leading role, leaping and grabbing. Mike Catt – on for Mike Tindall – clatters valiantly into the Australian midfield. With the Wallabies suspecting the immediate drop-goal, Dawson snipes, earning England better field position for the kick. Johnson realises his scrum-half is buried, so trucks up, allowing Dawson to regain his feet and feed Wilkinson for the most memorable moment in English rugby history.

WG: I always claimed to Daws that I was just on his shoulder for that break – but I probably wasn’t. I was close, though, and hit maybe the second ruck of my career. Then, me and Jason Leonard – on for Phil Vickery – hit Johnno’s ruck, too. And where was the advantage for offside if Wilko had missed? Thankfully, he didn’t. It was a terrible drop-kick, but they all count!

The winning moment

Score: 17-20 (aet)

With England leading by three points and time as good as up, Australia have one last roll of the dice. The Wallabies kick short in a desperate attempt to regain possession but Woodman, England’s loosehead, does a tremendous job of snaffling possession. The ball comes back to Catt who sends it spiralling into the stands – and England into delirium.

WG: An unbelievable take from Trevor. I get the p--- taken out of me here as I end up lying prostrate on the floor before Daws passes to Catty. There were two of us standing next to each other and I just didn’t want him to get confused as to who he was passing to. The easiest way to avoid that, I thought, was just to lie down. I thought it was remarkably intelligent but everyone takes the p---. ‘What were you doing? Making a table?’ Then Catty puts in one of the greatest spirals I’ve ever seen to end the game. Then I jump up and down with Wilko and the celebrations start. Good times.

Final reflections

Final score: 17-20 (aet)

WG: The first 30 minutes after the final whistle was just mental elation. It takes a lot of sacrifice to win. We were the first northern-hemisphere side – and I still can’t believe that no other has done it. Post-2003, only two teams have won the World Cup. We were good, we really were. We always found a way to win. We were ruthless – not nasty, although they could be if needed – edgy, nasty; no backwards steps. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other England team. It was an honour to be a part of it.