It’s hard to believe it’s been 16 years since Johnny Wilkinson delivered the most defining moment in English rugby history. With just 26 seconds of extra-time remaining in the World Cup Final between Australia and England, the fly-half sent a drop-kick with his weaker right foot between the posts to finally quash the Aussies’ resilient defense.
The 20-17 win meant that England became the first side from the northern hemisphere to win the coveted Webb Ellis Cup, providing one of the most iconic moments in British sport, not just in rugby. Wilkinson and co. were given a hero’s welcome upon their return and although England haven’t repeated that feat, the World Cup win will live in infamy amongst English rugby fans.
Wilkinson went on to enjoy a fine career with Newcastle Falcons and Toulon before retiring in 2014, taking up roles with ITV Sport covering the Rugby World Cup, Six Nations and other major events. Here, we take a look back at Wilkinson’s influence on the way to England’s World Cup success down under.
England got their campaign off to a flyer after they comprehensively beat Georgia 84-6, with Wilkinson registering ten points from his trusted left foot. Sir Clive Woodward’s side demonstrated their worth after making light work of the World Cup debutants, running in 12 tries in the process.
England faced a much sterner test in the shape of South Africa in their second pool game, but Wilkinson proved the difference after scoring four penalties, a conversion and a drop-kick in a 25-6 win. A job well done by Wilkinson and co.
Samoa were next up for Woodward’s side and they almost caused an upset after racing into a 10-0 lead. England managed to restore parity before half-time with the score at 13-16 to the Samoans, but it wasn’t until the last ten minutes England took a commanding lead and held on for the points, winning 35-22. Wilkinson kicked three conversions, two penalties and a drop-kick.
A resounding 111-13 victory over Uruguay meant that England finished as winners of Pool C, setting up an intriguing quarter-final with Wales. Josh Lewsey was the hero against Samoa after he touched down five of England’s 17 tries. Wilkinson was rested for this game but you do wonder what the final score would have been if he did feature.
Wales provided an almighty scare for England as the quarter-finals got underway, leading 10-3 after 43 minutes. Steve Hansen’s side touched down three times and although Will Greenwood went over for England, it was the boot of Wilkinson that saved the day. The Newcastle star kicked an impressive 23 points to ensure passage to the semi-final.
High winds and torrential rain greeted England in Sydney, with France separating them from a place in the final. Two of rugby’s most explosive teams were left to slog it out, and once again Wilkinson proved the difference after kicking all of England’s points. The 24-7 win meant it was England’s first World Cup Final appearance for 12 years, with Australia looking to become the first nation to retain the World Cup.
A hostile crowd of over 80,000 were packed into Sydney’s Telstra Stadium to see the conclusion of a brilliant World Cup, whereby Wilkinson immortalized himself into rugby folklore. The Aussies touched down first with just six minutes on the clock, before Wilkinson kicked England back into the reckoning with three penalties.
Jason Robinson provided England’s only try but Elton Flatley kept Eddie Jones’ Australia in it after kicking three penalties, including a last-gasp equalizer at the end of normal time. Wilkinson and Flatley kicked over once more in extra-time to level the scores at 17-17, but then we all know what happened next.
Wilkinson’s drop goal at the dying embers of the game meant that finally, England claimed the World Cup and his place in English rugby folklore was confirmed. Although it will be a tall order, England have a chance for World Cup glory again when the tournament returns later this year but before September’s showpiece, you can find the winner odds for Six Nations at Betfair right now.