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Rugby World Cup: The final frontier

Tomorrow will be England's third involvement in a World Cup final. Simon Turnbull and James Corrigan talk to those involved in their previous appearances in rugby union's showpiece occasion

1991: England 6 Australia 12; 2 November, Twickenham

PAUL ACKFORD England lock

In think in hindsight we took the final lightly, not in terms of the way we played but the importance of the occasion. After the quarter-final against France and the semi-final against Scotland I think there was a sense within the team that we had almost done what we had set out to: we'd made the final. I think that was a huge mistake, and probably one of the reasons why Australia won it.

There has been a lot of debate about the tactics involved that day. My memory of it is that we went down to Australia in the summer with pretty much the same side that played in the final, certainly the same pack, and we got absolutely smashed up front. So we thought there was no sense in playing that way against a similar Australian outfit.

That's the reason why we decided to move the ball more than we had done in the tournament. Our mistake was that we went pretty well up front in the first-half and we should have realised that at half-time and reverted to type.

I've never watched a tape of the game but I was at a function earlier on in this World Cup and they were playing reruns of old games and I just saw Tony Daly's try out of the corner of my eye. That was the first time I'd seen it since the final. It looked a pretty soft try to give away, to be honest.


We'd played Australia that summer and been well beaten, but we'd had some great moments during the match, so we were very focused on what we had to do to beat them. As well as having the amazing thrill of playing a World Cup final in your home stadium, we were very clear about what it would take to win. We'd talked about it all week. It didn't work on the day, as we all know.

I think I've got a rather more rounded view of it than some of the forwards have. I've read some of the stuff that people like Brian Moore and Mike Teague and Jeff Probyn have said – "We got it all wrong on the day. We should never have changed tactics". But the bottom line is that we all agreed that the way to beat Australia would be to attack them slightly wider out, because we'd had success with it and we thought we had the better players. We actually did get through a number of times, but I think they had worked out what we were trying to do.

I think a more valid criticism would be that we perhaps needed a mix of tactics on the day. If you see Australia flooding across the pitch, then you bring one or two moves back, for example. I think it wasn't so much that we made a blunder. We were right to do what we did. We did everything but score tries. I think it was just perhaps a mix of tactics on the day that we fell down on.


I'd love to tell you that it was the greatest final ever but it wasn't a classic. There was talk that England had changed their mode of play and that David Campese had conned them into it. I'm not sure if that's true, but we only had one try in the game and that was a pretty scrappy affair.

I remember having a conversation with the Australian coach, Bob Dwyer, and the captain, Nick Farr-Jones, the day before the game and they said they'd been looking at the England scrum and spotted that Mike Teague would drop his binding yet keep his position when the ball came out at the back of the scrum. Farr-Jones said: "I'm going round when he does that, because the scrummage is over." And I said, "He's right, you know."

So when I went into the England dressing room before the game I said to Teague: "If you're not binding you're not part of the scrum and they'll be well within their rights to come round." I said: "Make sure you are binding if you're driving on and keeping the ball at your feet." They call it preventative refereeing. To be honest, I didn't want to put myself in an awkward situation if it became a problem.

Mike Teague was very happy. I found him a good guy to referee. He was hard; he was uncompromising; and yet you could talk to him. If all forwards were like him, referees' lives would be a lot happier.

RICHARD HILL England scrum-half

My main memory of the day is probably lining up for the national anthem because we were so looking forward to it. It was the first World Cup final that England had reached and it was just such a huge occasion: in your own country, on your own ground. Walking out with that feeling was fantastic. The southern hemisphere nations had dominated rugby for so long and to get an opportunity like that put England on the big stage for the first time.

It has been well documented that the tactics were changed a little bit before the game, but I thought England played some really nice rugby in that final and could have won. There was a huge amount of pressure by England in the second-half. People say, "You should have kept the 10-man rugby that England had adopted throughout the tournament. You would have won that way". But you never know. It's easy in hindsight. We could have adopted a 10-man rugby approach and not won.

I think we played some decent rugby. It was quite a good entertaining game to play in. The likes of Guscott and Carling had plenty of balls to run and our back row had plenty of opportunity to break through theirs. It's always a letdown when you lose a final. You want the winners' medals, not the losers', but I still have good memories of that day.

Simon Turnbull

2003: England 20 Australia 17 (after extra time); 22 November, Telstra Stadium, Sydney

MIKE TINDALL England centre

Everyone kept telling us how tense the game was to watch, but when you're out there, you don't have time to dwell on things. You just play. One moment in the first half stands out, when I tackled George Gregan, the Australian captain. It was right in front of all the England fans – it seemed like tens of thousands of them. I just thought: "I've got to try to smash him into the floor. The fans will love that." That was it. I knew I had to drop him and I did. Our supporters went barmy. The second half was incredibly intense. A nine-point lead is nothing against a team like Australia. They're the ultimate competitors. With two minutes left on the clock I was replaced by Mike Catt. Then, unbelievably, with only moments remaining the Australians got their penalty. Watching extra time from the bench was an absolute nightmare. There was nothing I could do. It's hard to describe what I felt as the drop goal flew over. I can't say I felt relief or joy or anything like that because, quite frankly, I had no idea how I felt. All that time we'd been building up to this moment and then I didn't know what to do.

STEVE THOMPSON England hooker

It was an evening kick-off so it was quite hard during the day. I'm quite a hyperactive person so I tried to stay calm, sleep in the afternoon and watch films. We weren't allowed to have caffeine or anything like that. It was one of those days that just seemed to go on for ever and then when we went to the ground it went so quickly. I was sort of zombified, staring at the team bus window, thinking, "This is going to be our day". Because we'd been together so long we knew what we were supposed to do. I know we conceded that early try but then we were just scoring points, making the scoreboard tick over, and in the scrum, even though Andre Watson kept pinging us, I thought we had the upper hand. We just felt more powerful. But the ref was penalising all of us; front row, back row, I think he would have tried to have a go at Jonny for not scrummaging properly if he could have. It was ridiculous. When Flatley got that late penalty that was the only time, for a very short period, when we looked at each other and thought, "What have we done?" But then we got into a huddle and Jonno said, "You can think you've either just lost the World Cup or you can go out and win it". When Jonny kicked that drop goal I had my back to the posts. But I could see him starting to smile. And I knew. Because Jonny doesn't smile that often in a game.

DORIAN WEST England replacement

It was obviously frustrating sitting there [on the bench] in the biggest game you've ever been involved in. I was desperate to get on and, with the game going into extra time, you'd expect to. There you are, the gaffer thought differently. Watching it from the bench, I had that feeling it was taking us longer to finish it off than it should. We knew there were issues in the scrum and we didn't seem to be having the prominence there that we thought we deserved. It was as tense as you'd expect, although I'm not sure anyone imagined a finish like that. It was the sense of achievement that at last, after all the disappointments with cricket and football over the years, that an England team had at last won something really big. I remember saying to Jonno [Martin Johnson] straight after the game, "Just imagine what the lads are like back home now, imagine what they're doing, the laugh they're having". In some ways, it would have been nice to collect that trophy, sat with the team for an hour and then get back home and be with all your mates. It wasn't easy to be with the people you wanted. Yeah, we stayed up to 8am but it wasn't as wild as that sounds. Still, we made up for it until we flew back on the Tuesday.


Live commentary is the last of the great ad-lib shows – you can't prepare any lines for it. Saying that, people still come up to me and say, "You knew Jonny Wilkinson was going to drop that goal and you had rehearsed that commentary the night before". Utterly laughable. Of course, I played rugby so I knew what they would be trying to do in that scenario. I was more that 100 yards away; they weren't quite ants, but close to it, so when I said it was "Jonny Wilkinson kicking for World Cup glory" and all that I had a nanosecond of doubt. I feared for a moment it might be Mike Catt, so was relieved when I checked through my binoculars. The first hint I got that it was a marginally above average commentary was when John Inverdale, not a man to throw away praise lightly, said: "That was not your worst commentary ever." Then it went mad, being broadcast on the radio three or four times a day over the next week or so. It was voted second best sporting commentary of all time or something and we sold more than 50,000 rugby ball alarm clocks with it on for charity. And then Clive Woodward put it in one of those musical Christmas cards. It was funny that, as he'd forgotten to ask permission, so I got my pal at Clifford Chance to draft a proper legal letter suing for £1m for intellectual property rights. Clive's wife told me he was a quivering wreck when he was reading it. But when he got to the second page it said "£1m OR take me out for lunch with a nice bottle of wine". So Clive did that.

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