Rugby World Cup
Former Wallabies captain George Gregan recalls 'four more years' sledge from 2003 Rugby World Cup
Sam Bruce
September 15, 2015
Australia celebrated a famous victory © Getty Images

Sledging is a confrontational technique used far more widely in cricket than rugby yet one Wallabies captain found an appropriate moment to speak in an unforgettable trans-Tasman contest.

That player, of course, was scrum-half George Gregan whose "four more years" sledge has become part of Rugby World Cup folklore. Trotted out in the closing stages of the Wallabies' unlikely 22-10 victory over the All Blacks in the first semi-final of the 2003 showpiece, the sledge was the final insult on a night that would ultimately extend New Zealand's World Cup drought.

Just a few months earlier, that result appeared almost unthinkable.

"Yeah, the All Blacks game in 2003; I think everyone forgets the bit of a back-story to it from the Tri Nations where it was Tana Umaga's 50th [Test] and it got away from us in the second half," Gregan told ESPN. "We were doing some poor kicking, what we called fractured kicking and, like all New Zealand teams, if you kicked poorly against them they could score tries coast to coast. They've always had a wonderful back three. And I think it was one of Dan Carter's first Tests, maybe he came off the bench, and it was party time for them."

The Wallabies restored some pride a few weeks later when they went within four points of the All Blacks at Eden Park yet that defeat in Auckland saw the Bledisloe Cup change hands - and no Wallabies player has touched the trophy since.

"We played them a few weeks later in Auckland and the Bledisloe was up for grabs," Gregan said. "So if they won that it was a chance for them to win it, and they beat us by four points. But it was one of those games where we were held up over the line twice, and we were pretty unlucky. So there was a sense of relief ([or them] when they won that match but also great disappointment from our guys. We were gutted because we thought we'd done enough to have won that game. But we also knew that if we played them again, which was going to be in a semi-final later in the World Cup, that we knew we could beat them - if we performed like we did that night [in Auckland] and played just a little bit better. So there was that sense that we could do it when we went into that semi-final."

Australia centre Stirling Mortlock crashes through the New Zealand defence, Australia v New Zealand, Tri Nations, Telstra Stadium, August 3 2002.
Stirling Mortlock runs away to post the crucial try © Getty Images
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The Wallabies came through a tough Pool A that featured Argentina and Ireland, and then made light work of Scotland in a 33-16 quarter-final victory at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium. That set up a third clash with the All Blacks for the year; the visitors started overwhelming favourites, but a runaway intercept try by Stirling Mortlock gave the Wallabies early momentum and left fans across the Tasman cursing the name Carlos Spencer.

"Carlos was a wonderful player; I mean earlier that year the Auckland Blues had won the Super 12 title of the back of his game," Gregan told ESPN. "I mean it's a team game, but he was amazing; he was playing at a really high level. He was really mature as well. He'd always been able to do the kick pass off his knee, the reverse passes and there is a lot of what you see in Quade Cooper nowadays. He could do things no-one else could do. But you don't get a chance to do that much in Test match rugby because you're playing the best of the best, and sometimes the conservative option, or not the big play, is the play. And he was always prone to go the big play.

"And so if there was a big long pass to throw you could almost think he was going to throw it; and intercept is one where you take a punt. And Stirling took a punt and came up with the fruit. If that just clears him by half an inch, it's a try the other way; the margins are small. But, yeah, that was Carlos. It wasn't where the match was lost but it was a big moment in the Test match."

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The All Blacks managed a try of their own a few minutes out from half-time but five penalties from the boot of Elton Flatley ensured Australia would progress to the final, and paved the way for Gregan's final insult.

"It was actually just directed at Byron Kelleher: we had a competitive, combative relationship for many years and it was just at that point in the game; it just happened," the most-capped Wallabies player told ESPN. "He'd made a few errors since he came on; I was just looking to put some pressure on and I think he was probably trying to force it a little bit when he came on and made some uncharacteristic errors which didn't help his team and the game was sort of slipping at that point.

"And I just directed that at Byron, and the camera sort of zoomed in at the time and there you go; I've never heard the end of it. Every time I go to New Zealand, the Kiwis give me that one. So it was a bit of fun; well it's become a bit of fun anyway. But it was just a moment that was captured on camera between myself and Byron Kelleher which was directed just purely at Byron, not at the whole All Blacks team."

The two sides could face off in another semi-final, just as they did at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. A showdown on the neutral turf of Twickenham will eventuate if the Wallabies finish second in Pool A and then manage to negotiate a quarter-final likely with the Springboks. New Zealand meanwhile, have to top Pool D and then come through a quarter-final clash likely with Ireland, France or even outsiders Italy.

But the Wallabies won't be looking beyond Pool A - aptly labelled the Pool of Death due to the presence of hosts England, Wales and Fiji.

Gregan believes the tournament's toughest ever group could prove a blessing in disguise, providing the Wallabies front up at set-piece time.

"Yeah, the Wallabies' chances are going to be good," he told ESPN. "They're in a tough pool, which I like; it means they'll be playing hard rugby. There'll be a lot of talk beforehand about how bad the Wallabies scrum is, and I think Michael Cheika and the team will really use that as fuel. And if they can take that away from Wales and England, and be really solid and really disciplined in the set-piece part of their game, I'd really only put New Zealand in the same ability as the Wallabies to score points.

ESPN is proud to announce an exclusive 1-hour special - Cheika's Wallabies: Hope of a Nation - with a repeat broadcast on ESPN Thu Sept 17 at 9pm AEST (9pm NZ). ESPNscrum's leading rugby expert Greg Growden goes one-on-one with the Wallabies coach in this exclusive special that gives a rare insight into the intriguing personality of Australia's head coach.

© Sam Bruce

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