2003 World Cup Final
Richard Hill on 2003: The fear of failure
Tom Hamilton
November 22, 2013
The back-row triumvirate that won the 2003 World Cup © PA Photos

As England marks the 10-year anniversary since they won the World Cup, we speak to blindside Richard Hill about his memories of the final.

The week running up to the final

The injury which could have seen him ruled out: "I picked up the injury in the first game, about 50 minutes in, and I came off as a precaution. I wasn't the only one brought off with what was deemed to be a little knock. I was selected for South Africa in the next match but while Kyran Bracken passed his fitness test, I didn't get through. I must have aggravated my injury, we weren't sure whether it was nerve based, or hamstring based. It took until the quarter-final to show that I could run on it properly. Clive was very supportive and told me I was here to stay as they tried to get me ready for the semi-final and final. It didn't stop those nagging doubts, but come the quarter-final, I could have played if needed and then I was fit for the semis."

Coping with public attention: "I didn't have the same issues as Jonny but during that final week it had been a routine of trying to get him out of the hotel and we hadn't been able to do it that much during the tournament. But in the run-up to the final, when we were in Manly, we managed to get him out to a place around the corner from the hotel which was like a bookshop but had coffee. But supporters knew we were there and so they came over to Manly, and why wouldn't you? It's a great spot and the team was there.

England's Richard Hill in action, Austraila v England, Rugby World Cup Final, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Australia, November 22, 2003
Running out in the final © PA Photos

"We knew the Aussies were playing games trying to get people to honk their horns to keep us awake, but little did they know our rooms were on the opposite side of the hotel so it made no different to us at all."

The pre-match routine: "24 hours before most internationals, life became a routine. It was a little bit different being in the southern hemisphere as they play the evening games so you have to shunt everything back during the day. After we woke up and had breakfast we strolled over to the Manly Oval for lineout practise just to fine-tune a few calls. We knew we were being watched but from Clive's perceptive, it was important to get everyone in one place just for an illness check to determine whether anyone had picked up a bug over night. We then walked back in for lunch and with the evening kick-off, we had a long afternoon to occupy ourselves.

"We had probably lost a fair bit of sleep due to nervousness so the afternoon saw us put the television on and try and get a nap in. For me, the nerves kicked in pretty much when we won the semi-final, nerves were a part of myself and how I played. You didn't enjoy them, but you didn't fear them. But there was that fear of making a mistake which may cost you and your team-mates for the rest of your life.

"There was this woman who parked outside of the hotel in a 4x4, playing songs and trying to distract us. But to be honest, it had the reverse effect as it made us laugh and relax more."

Arriving at the Stadium

The rain: "We had already shown that, as a team, we could play in any conditions. The summer before we played in Wellington in miserable conditions and then a week later, in Melbourne, we played with the roof shut. As players, it didn't bother us."

Being in the changing room before the game: "It was a little bit less vocal than usual, but the key people were still going around, asking, demanding for what you're going to offer to make the team function. Neil Back would be there saying some of the key points of what he'd want from me that day.

"With the nerves, all you really wanted to happen was the game to start. It's what you train for, it's what makes you tick."


Lote Tuqiri's early try: "To score off first phase with so few people involved was a bit of a worry. There was the thought process that each time we get into that situation, was that always going to happen? Are they going to be trying that from their own 22? But the positive thing was that for the rest of that half, they didn't have territory or possession so weren't able to get into a try-scoring position. We didn't see it again, which was a surprise."

England's Richard Hill congratulates Jason Robinson on his try, Austraila v England, Rugby World Cup Final, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Australia, November 22, 2003
Congratulating Jason Robinson on his try © PA Photos

Jason Robinson's try: "I cannot remember where I was on the field but I have no doubt that I was probably either on the floor, or on the opposite side of the ruck. But it was an important moment. I think we'd got two penalties on the board and Ben had missed that try-scoring chance, dropping the ball. The momentum was going our way but we had let one chance go begging and the one thing we wanted was to be putting pressure on ourselves.

"But it was a good break from Lawrence, a good pass from Jonny and Jason took it exceptionally well."

Andre Watson's infamous officiating: "As with any time when you're conceding penalties, you are talking about discipline and about getting it right. You don't want to be losing matches on the back of things you can correct. It was difficult, you could tell the referee was frustrated, not only with the scrum but also the tactics around the pitch which he felt he had to get firm on. Unfortunately for us, he got on top of our scrum and gave them kickable penalties. Unfortunately the last one, five metres out, allowed the game to go into extra-time."


Exhaustion: "I was substituted in the 93rd minute, but without wanting to brag, I believe I felt fine. The fact was they had a midfield scrum, took it down the right where I was covering and George Gregan had grubbered it behind our backs but I managed to get it and bundle it into touch. I got some slight cramp and while you want to see the game out, I hadn't had the luxury of game time to build up that resistance to things like cramp. To get 93 minutes out, I was pretty grateful and it's a squad affair; there's no point risking me and then cramping early and watching George pick up the ball and run the length of the pitch."

The drop-goal: "I don't remember who I was sat next to. You have that euphoria but then in the back of your mind, you have 40 odd seconds where you know you can't afford to let them receive the ball. When you receive the kick-off, you like to think you have the base marked and all we had to do was catch it and set up the maul. I suppose we weren't quite as meticulous as we'd have hoped. Trevor Woodman was not the man I thought would win the last pick-up, but what an outstanding job he did. And then Catty kicked it out and we could appreciate what we'd just done."

Standing alongside Jonny Wilkinson © PA Photos

The celebrations

On-field: "Someone pointed it out to me the other day that there was a group of us who re-lived Benny's [Kay] moment in the corner where he dropped it. It was just brilliant, to go to Australia with half the crowd supporting you. There were people who had travelled out just to be in the stadium, you've got to love it."

John Howard's medal ceremony: "I'm sure he was under some time constraints and I'm sure there were people hurrying him up. It didn't bother me, I've got the medal, I live with it and it doesn't matter how I got it on my head."

The evening continues: "We had time to ourselves in the changing rooms with a few guests coming in and it was nice to have a beer. We still had some protocols to do, we had a press conference at one in the morning. We then travelled back into Sydney and got to friends and family at about two. We had a private restaurant booked until about four and then some went back to the hotel and some carried on.

"We knew the transport home would be an issue but I chose to go out and to be fair, I was mid-range at getting back in at about eight or nine in the morning. Someone rang ahead and organised a few bars to stay open for us, I think we ended up in Cargo bar. We were in there along with Prince Harry and Damien Martyn. It was a good night."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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