Rugby World Cup
Gregan, 'four more years' and King Carlos
Sam Bruce
August 25, 2015
George Gregan's 'four more years' sledge has not been forgotten ©

Sledging is a confrontational technique used for more widely in cricket than rugby yet one Wallabies captain found an appropriate moment 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."

A deflated George Gregan leaves the field after his Australia side's 12-6 Tri Nations loss to New Zealand at Lancaster Park, July 13 2002
The Wallabies had lost the Bledisloe earlier in 2003 © Getty Images

The Wallabies restored some pride a few weeks later when they came within four points of the All Blacks at Eden Park yet that defeat saw the Bledisloe Cup change hands - and no Wallabies player has touched it 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 (for 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."

The Wallabies came through a tough Pool A which featured both 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 and while the visitors started overwhelming favourites, a runaway intercept try to Stirling Mortlock allowed the Wallabies to snatch the early momentum and left fans across the Tasman cursing the name Carlos Spencer.

Stirling Mortlock swan-dives in to score, Australia v Scotland, World Cup, Suncorp Stadium, November 8 2003
Stirling Mortlock was rewarded for a chance play © Getty Images

"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 said. "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."

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 said. "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."

Tough pool doesn't worry Wallabies

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 their Pool and then manage to negotiate a likely quarter-final with the Springboks. New Zealand meanwhile, would have to top Pool D and then come through a likely quarter-final clash 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. But 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.

"This Wallaby team can score 20-plus points against any team in the world. So if they keep a solid set-piece, I'll back them to be a really tough team to playing at a World Cup. But it's going to be tough and if you get to the quarter-finals it's a totally new game."

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