RWC 2003: Wilkinson is England's hero
AUCKLAND, 1 Sept. - Jonny Wilkinson broke the hearts of Australia in one of the most dramatic finales in the history of the Rugby World Cup.
Wilkinson dropped a goal 30 seconds from the end of extra time to clinch the trophy for England with a 20-17 victory to culminate a stellar personal tournament in 2003.
Organisers switched the format from the previous RWC to four groups of five instead of five groups of four, which increased the number of matches from 41 to 48.
All the countries that took part in 1999 returned. The exception were Spain, enabling Georgia to make their debut.
Hosts' blistering start as records tumble
Australia defeated Argentina 24-8 in the opening match at Sydney's Olympic Stadium for their seventh RWC victory in a row, a winning run that started in 1999 and would ultimately stretch to a competition-record 12 matches.
A record tournament crowd of 81,350 watched the match and that was surpassed in the final when 82,957 spectators took the total to a new high of 1,837,000.
There were several other tournament records set. They included 2,835 points scored, 332 tries, 244 conversions and 23 drop goals. New Zealand scored 361 points, including 52 tries and 40 conversions, the best by one team at a RWC. For the first and only time no players were sent off.
Australia racked up a record 22 tries as they achieved the highest winning margin when they beat Namibia 142-0, the unfortunate Africans' duck coming at the famous Adelaide Oval cricket ground. Only New Zealand have scored more in a RWC match, when they amassed 145 against Japan in 1995. The Wallabies also registered the fastest try in a RWC match when Elton Flatley scored in only 17 seconds in the match against Japan.
Hat-trick of full houses
To add to the excitement, there were three full houses, a record for a single tournament. France's Frederic Michalak scored 28 points against Scotland from a try, four conversions, four penalties and a drop goal, equalling the tally set by fellow Frenchman Christophe Lamaison against New Zealand in 1999.
The others came from South Africa's Derick Hougaard, who scored 21 points against Samoa, while Andrew Miller scored all 13 of Japan’s points against Fiji.
Wales' tale of woe
Wales scored a record 37 points against New Zealand yet still lost their pool match, 53-37. They broke the previous RWC record for a losing score of 31 set by themselves and the All Blacks in defeats in 1999. Wales' half-time tally of 24 was a record for a team that did not win.
In a clash of rugby superpowers in the pool phase, England avenged their 1999 quarter-final defeat with a 25-6 win over South Africa, ending a record streak of six RWC matches in which the Springboks had prevented the opposition from scoring a try.
Battle of the world-beaters
The first quarter-finals pitted two former world champions against each other. Second place behind England in their pool led to the Springboks meeting the All Blacks, who coasted to a 29-9 win.
Later that day, the Wallabies beat Scotland 33-16 and the following day France defeated Ireland 43-21 and England saw off Wales 28-17.
Wallabies do the double
The semi-finals were dramatic affairs. New Zealand have beaten every country they have played at least once in the RWC - except Australia. The jinx continued when they went down 22-10 as the Wallabies became the first nation to qualify for consecutive finals and a record third overall. Joe Roff set a new RWC record of 13 for most consecutive wins (1995-2003).
In the bronze medal match, New Zealand destroyed France 40-13. Doug Howlett and Mils Muliaina each scored a try, taking their tournament tally to a tournament-high seven. It was the fourth time in five World Cups that the All Blacks had provided the leading try scorers.
Wilko's wonder winner
The final produced arguably the most nail-biting clash in rugby history as England star Wilkinson's drop goal in the last minute of extra time sealed the trophy for England.
England had become the first nation from the northern hemisphere to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, capping a memorable year in which they also won the Six Nations Grand Slam.
Wilkinson had a glorious tournament. He was leading points scorer with 113 and kicked a record eight drop goals in a record five different matches. In the semi-final against France he scored all 24 of his side’s points.
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