RWC 2015 Draw Spotlight - England
ENGLAND ON THE RWC STAGE
After becoming the first – and still only – northern hemisphere side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003, England returned home to a heroes’ welcome.
Amid scenes more reminiscent of Beatle-mania at its pomp, England’s triumphant squad was greeted by an estimated 750,000 people at a street parade in London to celebrate their victory in Australia.
For many of the ‘Class of 2003’ their lives would never be the same thereafter. Inspirational coach Clive Woodward became a ‘Sir’ as he and the rest of the successful squad engaged with royalty, literally so in the case of hard-tackling centre Mike Tindall, who would later marry Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter.
England’s World Cup win, based around a dominant pack, superb defence, the unerring boot of Jonny Wilkinson – whose right-footed drop goal in the final in Sydney will never be forgotten - and magical moments from Jason Robinson, elevated the profile of the game to previously untouched levels.
But retirement from international rugby beckoned between World Cups for many of the inspirational figures on show in Australia, and, in 2007, England’s hopes of defending the trophy looked extremely slim after they had been beaten 36-0 by South Africa just two games into the tournament.
But England rallied marvellously, producing a scrummaging masterclass to deny Australia in the quarter-final before beating France to set up another showdown with the Springboks in the final. However England never seriously looked like becoming the first side to successfully defend the title and South Africa won 15-6.
2011 was a different story altogether in that it was a hugely disappointing effort throughout. England’s torture on and off the field in New Zealand was eventually ended by France in the quarter-finals.
Prior to their win in 2003, England’s track record in World Cups had been patchy to say the least. By their own admission, England’s players took the inaugural event in 1987 as a bit of an end of season jolly, but not much fun was had by anyone as they lost an uninspiring quarter-final at the hands of arch-rivals Wales.
England co-hosted the second Rugby World Cup in 1991 and, thanks to a strong forward platform and Rob Andrew’s control at fly half they recovered from defeat to New Zealand in the opening game to make it through to the final at Twickenham. A change of tack to a more attacking game plan, due, some would argue, to goading from opponents Australia, did not have the desired effect and England were unable to cross the try-line in a dour final that ended 12-6 to the Wallabies.
Five years after Nelson Mandela had been freed from prison and three years since South Africa returned to the international sporting fold, the third Rugby World Cup was staged for the first time in what by now was being christened the ‘Rainbow Nation’.
While Mandela’s warm embrace with the Springboks’ World Cup winning captain, Francois Pienaar, is rightly regarded as the tournament’s iconic image, in terms of action on the pitch the sight of Jonah Lomu steamrollering his way over one would-be tackler after another is the one that English fans will remember most readily. A turbo-charged performance from the giant wing, which brought him four of his side’s six tries, saw New Zealand knock England out at the semi-final stage.
With a young Jonny Wilkinson in tow and Martin Johnson in place as skipper, RWC 1999 offered a brief glimpse into England’s future. With the last-ever Five Nations title having narrowly escaped them following a heart-breaking defeat to Wales, England went into the tournament hoping for some form of redemption. They reached the last eight but that was as far as they got thanks to Jannie de Beer’s remarkable tally of five drop goals in Paris.
Four years later, though, it only took one drop goal for England to put that disappointment behind them and conquer the world.
England players currently top the top point scorer and appearances categories in the history of the Rugby World Cup. Jonny Wilkinson’s tally of 277 points puts him 50 ahead of his nearest rival, Scotland’s Gavin Hastings. Jason Leonard, meanwhile, made a record 22 appearances – two more than Australia’s George Gregan – spread across the 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003 tournaments.
England’s style of play may not have been the prettiest in 2003, but no-one could deny that they were the best team in the tournament and thoroughly deserved their ground-breaking success. Tens of thousands of fans cheered them on Down Under with many more taking to the streets to salute them on their return.
Mick ‘The Munch’ Skinner’s thunderous hit on Marc Cecillon set the tone for a hugely physical effort from England that led to a shock 1991 quarter-final win over France in their own backyard.
The memory of referee Jim Fleming raising his arm aloft time and time again, as the ball kept sailing between the uprights from the boot of Jannie de Beer in the 1995 quarter-final, is enough to haunt any England fan.
“We're going to tear those boys apart’. Message stuck-up on the changing room wall by England captain Will Carling before his team faced the All Blacks in the RWC 1995 semi-final. It took all of 90 seconds for New Zealand to score their first try as they demolished England 45-29.
Rob Andrew received the ball 41 times in the RWC 1991 Final v Australia, running it 26 times: a remarkably high ratio for an England side noted at the time for its conservative approach. In contrast, Andrew’s opposite number, Michael Lynagh, received the ball 17 times and passed it on to his backs a mere four times.