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An epic Final

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

It looked like the England rugby team wanted to make their lap of honour last for the rest of their lives, and who could blame them!

None of them had come close to experiencing the feeling in Sydney's Olympic Stadium on Saturday 22 November. After Jonny Wilkinson's last minute drop goal the 35,000 England fans in Sydney's Olympic Stadium weren't going to have it any other way.

They wanted each and every one of their heroes to understand what it meant to lift  the Webb Ellis Cup. Cocooned in Australia the squad didn't really have any idea how the country had stopped to watch them play Australia and how they were dancing in the streets when the cup was won. With the anthem from the 1997 Lions tour, Wonderwall, blaring out over the loudspeaker it was clear that every England player was doing all they could to take it all in.

All they could to make that trip around the touchline last for the rest of their lives. For around 110 minutes of rugby they had captivated a 85,000 strong crowd in the Olympic Stadium and the millions watching on television back home, with one of the greatest matches in rugby's history. But they didn't do it without putting those fans through the mill more than once.

When they went into the break 14-5 ahead – courtesy of a Jason Robinson try and the boot of Wilkinson – those fans were looking forward to one last score and 30 minutes of Mexican waves. Lote Tiquri had put Australia in front, beating Robinson to a Stephen Larkham crossfield kick, but England always seemed to have another gear to change to.

Even with that half time deficit Australia – to their eternal credit – roared back to send the game into extra time, the scores tied at 14-14.

Only referee Andre Watson knows exactly why he gave that last penalty against the England front row to allow Elton Flatley to send his kick over and the game into 20 minutes of extra time.

For the whole match Phil Vickery and his front row partners, Trevor Woodman and Steve Thompson, had held more than the upper hand in the scrums. But they fell foul of Watson six times and the bemused look on Vickery's face when they last one was awarded summed-up the majority of the crowd.

But give it Watson did, and England – under the incredible leadership of Martin Johnson – responded with one last effort, in extra time. During this period Wilkinson and Flatley exchanged penalties to tie it up again and then it was left to the last act, to send the Webb Ellis Cup to Twickenham.

A line out on the 22. Two phases and then Matt Dawson drove into the Australia 22 to set up the opportunity. Johnson took it on a few more hard yards and then back to Wilkinson. It slipped on to his weaker right foot and two nations held their breath. But the ball travelled true, through the posts and England were champions. Australia coach Eddie Jones and captain George Gregan were – to their credit – humble in defeat, applauding England's massive effort.

And Woodward – who will surely be known as Sir Clive after the New Year's Honours list is published – was left to receive a huge cheer from the crowd when he was presented with his medal. That was an immense effort by a great team," said Woodward But there is one big question left. Is that the last time this England XV will play together?

Not according to Woodward.

"I don't think that the team will necessarily break-up," Woodward added, "but life does move on, but we take it all in our stride and the biggest thing to me is that this current England team is not just going to be a blip.

"We have got to keep the momentum going and all these players have got a huge role to play in the future and I hope that all thirty of them plus Graham Rowntree, Austin Healey and Danny Grewcock will be available for selection in February for the Six Nations."

One feature of this England team is that they are all quick to praise others for their successes and blame themselves for the rare failures. And Woodward turned immediately to thank a number of people.

He said: "We have got a brilliant team, I can't speak highly enough of Andy Robinson, Phil Larder, who are the main coaches along with myself. But the whole team has been brilliant, we have an excellent back up staff and we have thrown the kitchen sink at this and won.

"Big thanks to the RFU who have helped enormously and equally a big thanks to the Zurich Premiership clubs, this success is for the whole of English rugby and there is a lot of people who put a lot of time, money and effort into this.

"I am very lucky to be heading it all up and delighted for all the fans especially and to do something very special by playing and beating a tremendous team like Australia.

"They have played outstandingly well and you don't want to break a team up. I have just asked them all to go home and not make any rash decisions over the next couple of months and see how they feel in January or February. It is a great team, we had a saying that it was going from good to great and they have always been a very good team.

"I think that they proved it against all adversity in the final. Every decision seemed to go against them and yet they still won and that is the sign of a champion team. They are a great bunch of players with a great captain and I am just very, very proud and privileged to be in charge of them," he added.


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