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On this day 20 years ago: Jonny Wilkinson drop goal wins England 2003 final

In what was the most thrilling Rugby World Cup final to date, England secured the Webb Ellis Trophy for the first time in dramatic fashion in 2003.

Having lost the final on home soil to Australia in 1991, England were desperate to turn the tables on their rivals to triumph Down Under.

The tactical genius of coach Clive Woodward, the inspirational captaincy of Martin Johnson and the kicking ability of Jonny Wilkinson were all key factors in the Red Rose’s success.

We look back at that historic success and remember some of the key England moments from the 2003 tournament.

Woodward deals with high expectations

Having won the Six Nations’ Grand Slam earlier in the year, there were some pundits suggesting that England should be amongst the favourites to lift the World Cup.

With the expectancy growing, coach Woodward remained level-headed but optimistic that this could be his team’s year to beat the best in the world.

Those expectations rose considerably in the build-up to the big event, as Woodward’s men beat New Zealand in Wellington and Australia in Melbourne in the space of two weeks in June.

There was one wake-up call for England, when they were beaten 17-16 by France in Marseille six weeks before the tournament, but confidence was nonetheless high heading into the World Cup.

The group draw was favourable for England, who were put in Pool C along with 1995 winners South Africa, hard-hitting Samoa and the inexperienced pair of Georgia and Uruguay.

England cruise through to knockout rounds

The Six Nations champions began their World Cup campaign on October 12th, when England faced Georgia for the first time in their history.

As expected, they ran out comfortable winners in Perth, recording a crushing 84-6 victory as they ran in no fewer than 12 tries.

The first major test of the tournament came six days later, when they faced South Africa in Perth in front of almost 40,000 fans.

England controlled the game for long periods and eventually beat the Springboks 25-6, with Will Greenwood scoring the only try of the match.

After a hard-fought 35-22 win over Samoa in Melbourne, England ended their group campaign with a thumping victory over Uruguay - beating the South Americans 111-13, with Josh Lewsey running in five of England’s 17 tries.

Familiar foes seen off in knockout stages

Having finished top of Pool C, England were then handed a quarter-final against Six Nations rivals Wales in Brisbane.

Although the Welsh scored more tries than Woodward’s men, the boot of Wilkinson was crucial as he fired over a conversion, six penalties and a drop goal to seal a 28-17 win.

Having reached the last four of the World Cup for the third time, France stood between England and a place in the final.

Les Bleus had been the only team to beat England in that calendar year, but the Red Rose weren’t about to let their rivals end their World Cup hopes.

Again it was the boot of Wilkinson which proved to be the difference, with the Newcastle Falcons fly-half scoring all off England’s points in a 24-7 success in Sydney.

England deliver in dramatic finale

Saturday 22nd November, 2003 will be a date that all England rugby fans will remember, as the Red Rose beat the Wallabies in front of 83,000 spectators in Stadium Australia.

The start of the game suggested England would fall short again at the final hurdle, with the home fans on their feet inside the first six minutes.

Winger Lote Tuqiri went over for Australia and England had it all to do to silence the crowd and overturn the deficit.

Three penalties from Wilkinson edged England in front, before a fantastic try from Jason Robinson two minutes before half-time further extended their lead.

Three second-half penalties from Aussie inside-centre Elton Flatley helped level the scores at 14-14, meaning the two teams would head into extra-time.

Wilkinson and Flatley exchanged penalties before the England number 10 ended the final in the most dramatic circumstances.

With under a minute left on the clock, scrum-half Matt Dawson fed Wilkinson, who dropped a goal from 30 metres out to claim the victory and see England lift the World Cup trophy for the very first time.

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