OITA, 17 Oct - There are perhaps no two better guides to the depth and intricacy of the historic rivalry between Australia and England than George Gregan and Matt Dawson.
This pair of record-setting scrum-halves amassed 216 caps, won a Rugby World Cup each and starred in several of the most memorable clashes between the old enemies, including the 2003 RWC final, above.
With the next meeting in Oita looming, Gregan summed up the magnitude of one of sport's greatest rivalries.
"It's always been big and it always will be," the former Wallabies skipper said. "You feel very lucky to be part of those occasions. The players feel it, the fans feel it. They are big games, big moments, and you always know where you are when they take place."
So no surprise both Gregan and Dawson can pinpoint the exact moment Australia versus England became imprinted on their psyche. For Dawson, it was through the agony of disappointment.
"I was so, so into my rugby, I would have been 19 years old and rugby was my life and seeing England lose that game just devastated me," he said in reference to the 1991 World Cup final, in which Australia beat England 12-6 at Twickenham. "I was very respectful of a brilliant Australia team but England had Will Carling, Jerry Guscott and Rob Andrew - they were my guys."
In a sign of just how deep this duel goes, Gregan, the Wallabies' most capped player of all time, cites a different sport for his most enduring memory.
"It was Allan Border and that team that won the Ashes in '89, that was a standout for me," said the cricket crazy scrum-half. "He just dug in and didn't give his wicket away. He took over a team that was lost and they won the Ashes in England (for the first time in 14 years)."
Neither can talk for long about Australia versus England until the 2003 final in Sydney becomes impossible to ignore. It is no surprise Dawson is a little more forthcoming on the subject.
"If you are going to go anywhere and win a World Cup, to beat the hosts in their backyard was incredibly special," he said. Gregan's assessment of the match, which the Wallabies lost 20-17 in extra-time to a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal, is a little more direct: "It was shit," the 46-year-old said.
"Every time the World Cup comes around you see the image of him (Dawson) scooting past our first defender getting extra yards and then Jonno (Martin Johnson) hits it up and Jonny (Wilkinson) kicks the field goal," Gregan laughed before generously conceding that England team "was bloody good".
🚨Team Announcement🚨— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 17, 2019
The @EnglandRugby side that will play against Australia in the quarter-final at #RWC2019. What do yo think of it?
📝 @JonnyMay to win his 50th cap #ENGvAUS #WebbEllisCup
Find out where you can watch at https://t.co/z0BgdPYBjN pic.twitter.com/UYosJz4okN
As is the way with all great match-ups, the pendulum did not take long to swing back Australia's way again. Less than a year after handing over the Webb Ellis Cup to Dawson and his buddies, Gregan was able to at least partially make amends. A revitalised Wallabies tore into the Red Roses in Brisbane putting 51 points on them.
While Dawson, who started on the bench that day, would rather forget the entire afternoon, it was not his worst moment Down Under. That had come six years earlier.
"Captain of the squad for the first time, watching from the sidelines and it was just a complete embarrassment," Dawson said of the 76-0 defeat England suffered in Brisbane in 1998. "Watching their banana boys (bench players) doing press-ups for every point Australia scored, and they scored so many at such at a rate they had to change from press-ups to sit-ups because they couldn't keep up."
"...I'm not sure what the step up is, we'll see on Saturday but we'll be ready for it whatever it is"@wallabies head coach gives injury update on Beale & speaks about facing England in QFs at #RWC2019 #ENGvAUS #WebbEllisCup— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) 16 October 2019
Full press conference at https://t.co/MCRttROU9D pic.twitter.com/aOhA9X3WJd
The two former test players cannot hide their excitement about Saturday's game and, intriguingly, they almost agree on the result.
Gregan, whom Dawson describes as the best he ever played against, declared it as a direct "50-50" stressing that Australia have a "style which teams find hard to play against". His one-time opposite number is, worryingly for England fans, far less confident.
"I have from the off, even pre-tournament, said I would have rather played Wales in the quarter-final than Australia," the Englishman said. "Australia are an out-and-out World Cup side. They will probably home in on something no one else has thought of when it comes to playing against England."