SYDNEY: A sweetly struck drop goal by Jonny Wilkinson one minute from the end of extra time gave England a dramatic 20-17 victory over Australia in an epic World Cup final yesterday.
A match of escalating tension and unremitting intensity was appropriately settled by the best fly-half in the tournament on a night of driving rain at the Olympic Stadium.
Australia, the defending champions, had fought back from 14-5 down at halftime to level at 14-14 but after scrumhalf Matt Dawson had run deep into Australian territory, England systematically set up a position for Wilkinson.
All the Wallaby team could see what was coming but they were powerless to prevent the nerveless left-footed standoff kicking the most important goal of his life with his right boot.
The game was only the second of five finals to go into extra time and it was indisputably the most exciting.
In addition, England became the first northern hemisphere side to win the World Cup before a record crowd for a rugby match of 82,957. They also entered sporting legend as the first England team to win a major team trophy since the 1966 soccer World Cup.
“It was a huge effort by the entire squad of players, coaches and backroom staff, everybody. Thanks to the fans, they were incredible,” said captain Martin Johnson, who had a colossal game at lock.
“I can't say enough about the team, because we had the lead and we lost it but we came back and Wilko at the end, I can't say enough about it.”
England, who had beaten Australia in their last four matches, took a 14-5 lead at halftime after both sides had scored a try apiece.
Led by Johnson and his magnificent forward pack, they then dominated possession in the second half on a treacherous pitch after two days of heavy rain before Wallaby coach Eddie Jones produced a tactical master stroke.
Jones brought on his reserve locks David Giffin and Matt Cockbain and suddenly Australia began to dominate the lineouts.
Centre Elton Flatley, dropped from the Wallaby side this year after failing to turn up for training after a night of celebration kicked two penalties to put Australia only three points adrift.
With two minutes of normal time remaining, South African referee Andre Watson penalised England for illegal scrummaging. Flatley lined up the ball on the 22m mark and kicked the equalising goal.
Two minutes into extra time, Wilkinson kicked his fourth penalty from 45m and the teams turned around with England leading by three points.
But with four minutes left, number eight Lawrence Dallaglio was penalised for hands in the ruck and Flatley levelled again.
With implacable self-belief, England surged back, Dawson made the crucial break and Wilkinson, who had missed with three previous drop kick attempts, kicked the winning goal.
Australia, seeking to win the Cup for an unprecedented third time, had made a perfect start, scoring a try after only six minutes.
From a scrum near the 22m line, fly-half Stephen Larkham hoisted a perfect up-and-under for Lote Tuqiri's wing. As the ball hovered just short of the line, Tuqiri out-jumped the smaller Jason Robinson and crashed over triumphantly for the try.
Wilkinson replied for England five minutes later when he slotted the ball through the uprights with a 45m penalty.
He kicked another from almost the same spot and the third from the 22m mark.
In the 38th minute, Dallaglio, who had a magnificent game, burst through the Wallaby defence and fed Wilkinson whose pass sent Robinson scampering away to score in the left-hand corner.
England should have been further ahead but lock Ben Kay dropped the ball with the line at his mercy after Dallaglio had kicked ahead to set up the perfect attacking platform. – Reuters