Legends turn back the clock in celebration
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the breath-taking Rugby World Cup 2003 Final, rugby legends from England and Australia pulled their national jerseys back on Thursday for a charity match at the Twickenham Stoop in London.
The memory of 22 November 2003, the day that England beat hosts Australia 20-17 after extra time in the RWC 2003 Final, resonates very differently with both sets of fans but English and Australian supporters turned out in numbers to see their heroes battle it out again.
Australia’s participation in the match was in itself an incredible gesture. Not only did the Australia Legends team take the time to travel across the world to raise money for charity, but also to commemorate a final lost on home soil to one of their oldest rivals.
It is actions like these that highlight the unique values of rugby, and the former Australian star Stirling Mortlock, who played in the RWC 2003 Final but was only involved as a spectator last night, explained what makes the sport so special for him.
“It’s great that the Australian legends came here tonight,” said Mortlock. “A big part of rugby is being fierce competitors on the field and great mates off it. Rugby is one of those sports where you can have a beer with your opponents afterwards and share a few war stories. This game has given me so many great friendships with people from all walks of life.
“Tonight was all about raising money for charity and reconnecting with guys who you haven’t seen in a long time. It was a fantastic match and the legends set a really high standard - many of them showed they’ve still got the X factor. It was also a pretty nice finish for the home crowd to see Steve Thompson run the length of the pitch, throw a couple of dummies and score in the corner.”
With a combined total of more than 1,450 Test appearances on the pitch, an array of former stars turned up to take part in a thrilling match which finished 17-12 to the England Legends. While English line-up included the likes of RWC journeymen Jason Leonard, Phil Vickery, Ben Kay and Jason Robinson, the Australia Legends team also boasted a stellar collection of former RWC heroes, including Al Baxter and Richard Harry.
Robinson brings back the magic
One of the stand-out performers was Robinson for the England Legends. The mercurial wing set up the first try and scored the second with an assist from England Rugby 2015 Ambassador Will Greenwood, who even took to the field wearing Australia socks to show solidarity with his southern hemisphere counterparts.
Robinson, who scored England’s only try in the RWC 2003 Final, was clearly delighted to have been involved in the action: “It was a great experience for all of us and more importantly for a really good cause. I’m really proud at seeing both sets of players making the effort to be here tonight and there was a good turnout with over 5,000 fans.
"Tonight has given the legends even more great memories and personally I’m really glad to have come off in one piece. There were lots of kids here tonight, and with less than two years to go until RWC 2015 I think that the tournament is going to generate a huge amount of interest with youngsters across the country.”
On Saturday it will be the legends turn to sit back and watch the current stars, with the majority of them set to attend the England v Australia match at Twickenham. The match will take on added significance with the teams drawn together in Pool A of RWC 2015.
While the match brought back many special memories as the legends re-kindled some of the magic of years gone by, the attentions of both players and fans alike will now be firmly focused on the November internationals and the countdown to RWC 2015.