Remembering England's Historic Rugby World Cup Triumph in 2003 - Ruck

Remembering England’s Historic Rugby World Cup Triumph in 2003

2023 will see the next installment in the Rugby World Cup, the greatest prize in the world of rugby union.

The upcoming sporting extravaganza will get underway in the autumn and will be hosted in France. Oddschecker, which compares rugby odds and offers, currently makes the hosts the second favorites to lift the Web Ellis trophy for the first time in the nation’s history. And with the best player in the world, Antoine Dupont, in their ranks, it’s clear to see why they are considered contenders.

Prior to this year’s Six Nations getting underway, however, Les Bleus were the outright favorites for success. That tag now goes to Ireland, and the Boys in Green have been in scintillating form over the last year. Last summer, they stunned New Zealand, the All Blacks, to claim a first-ever series victory away in NZ. They followed that up by romping to the Six Nations crown, and Grand Slam no less, earlier this year – their first triumph in the tournament for five years. Whether they can follow that up with a maiden success on the world stage remains to be seen. 

England’s Chances in 2023

One nation from the Northern Hemisphere that doesn’t appear to be a contender this year, however, is England. The English have been in disarray in recent installments of the Six Nations, and not even a test series victory against Australia down under could save former head coach Eddie Jones’ job. Former captain Steve Borthwick has taken over from the recently dismissed Jones and he has a job on his hands if he is to restore his nation to its former glories. They finished fourth in the most recent installment of the tournament, and after being drawn in Pool D alongside Japan, Argentina, and Samoa, England need to make sure they are at their very best if they are to avoid embarrassment.

England fans, however, have the option of revisiting some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport to draw inspiration, unlike their nearest rivals in the Northern Hemisphere. One of the standout events in English sporting history came at the turn of the millennium at the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia. England came into the tournament as contenders having finished unbeaten in the preceding Six Nations, but still outsiders in comparison to Southern Hemisphere nations Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. They went on to showcase their dominance in the tournament, winning all their matches, and lifting the famous Webb Ellis Cup for the first time in history. 

With English hopes looking slim for the upcoming Rugby World Cup in France, we decided that now would be the perfect time to look back at greener pastures, perhaps providing some hope for the tournament to come. 

Pool Stage

England were in Pool C at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, along with southern hemisphere heavyweights South Africa, the hard-hitting Pacific islanders of Samoa, and underdogs Georgia and Uruguay. Their first match was a thumping 84-6 victory against the unheralded Georgians. They followed that up with an impressive 25-6 victory against the Springboks before further victories against the Samoans and Uruguayans ensured that England topped their pool. That would set up a quarterfinal against fellow home nation Wales. 

Quarterfinals and Semifinals

The Welsh finished behind New Zealand in Group D and, as such, had to face off against eternal rivals England in the quarterfinals. However, much to the surprise of everybody, it was Wales that raced into an early lead courtesy of early tries from fly-half Stephen Jones and captain Colin Charvis. England stayed in contention through the brilliant kicking of the all-time great Jonny Wilkinson, and when Will Greenwood powered over the try line shortly into the second half, the English took control. Wales would find a try late on; however, it was too little too late, and England ran out 28-17 victors. 

That victory set up an all-European semifinal against France. Les Bleus were hoping to reach their second consecutive Rugby World Cup final. They had reached the final four years earlier, but they were eventually trounced by Australia in the final. They were aiming to put that right four years on and, once again, England would fall behind early. However, the brilliance of Wilkinson shone through. He scored five penalties as well as three drop goals to secure a 24-7 victory and set up a final against hosts Australia. 

The Final

Backed by a boisterous home crowd, the hosts represented a huge challenge for Sir Clive Woodward’s men. Once the final got underway, it was a tense and cagey affair. England took an early lead from a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal. Australia responded instantly with a penalty of their own before a try from Lote Tuqiri gave the hosts the lead. The visitors would strike back on the stroke of halftime through Jason Robinson, and the pair couldn’t be separated as the game headed to extra time. 

In the end, however, England had the final. Player of the tournament Wilkinson – who else? – would become the man of the match and cement his legacy as one of his country’s greatest sporting heroes. He sent over a last-gasp drop goal with just seconds remaining in extra time to secure the victory. The moment is often replayed even 20 years on, and Wilkinson’s drop goal will forever live on in history, not just of English sport but the history of rugby as a whole. 

England’s Losses in the 2007 and 2019 Rugby World Cup Finals

England came into the 2007 Rugby World Cup in high spirits after their triumph four years earlier. However, in the four years since their greatest hour, they were in somewhat of a slump, which was evident in the group stages when they were routed by South Africa. Once Jonny Wilkinson returned to fitness though, he would once again lead his team on a charge. Shock victories against Australia and France in the knockout stages set up a second consecutive World Cup final; however, the Springboks would once again have too much for the English in Paris. 

The pair would square off in the World Cup final once again in 2019. After England beat New Zealand in the semifinals, many expected them to power their way to glory. In the end, though, South Africa once again got the better of their rivals, winning 32-12 in Yokohama to lift the Web Ellis Trophy for the third time in their nation’s history.