April 18 down the years
England ... the 'utterly inept April Fools'
Cardiff Blues' Leigh Halfpenny and Gloucester Rory Lawson and Ryan Lamb contest a high ball during a one-sided EDF Cup final in 2009
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England conceded their then record score, losing 35-13 against a rampant French XV in Paris. Pat Marshall writing in the Daily Express did not mince his words. "I have never in 25 years' reporting international rugby seen an England side look so utterly inept and be so completely outplayed in every facet of the game." In the Daily Mirror Peter Laker labelled England "jaded, end-of-season, April fools, devoid of competitive know-how … the French superbly arrogant footballers glowing with animal
energy, utterly decimated an out-of-condition English side lost in a maze of stodgy thought." At one point in the second half England fought back from 19-0 down to 19-13 before three further French tries sunk them without trace.
In a brutally one-sided EDF Cup final Cardiff Blues thrashed Gloucester 50-12 at Twickenham, coach Dean Ryan's fourth final loss with the side. Most of the post-match coverage centred on Ryan's own future. "This industry is constantly about directors of rugby's jobs," he said. "I need to come up with plans about how we are taking it forward. I need to see if [the chairman] wants to continue with me doing that. At the moment he is very supportive." Ryan left the club by mutual consent less than two months later.
Ireland beat the undisputed Five Nations champions, France, 9-5 in an exciting match in Dublin that was also French captain, Lucien Mias's last international. Irish fly-half Michael English scored a drop-goal, while a converted try from winger Niall Brophy secured the victory.
Lancashire beat Cornwall 9-6 in front of 50,000 at Twickenham in the County Championship final, Paul Grayson kicking the winning points despite a wall fo sound from the Cornwall supporters. "It took the pressure off me," he said. "If I'd missed people would have said it was because 40,000 Cornwall fans were screaming at me, so I had nothing to lose." Grayson, 20, who had only taken up rugby two years earlier after playing football for Accrington Stanley, went on to play 32 times for England.
Wasps banned Andrew Powell and Tim Payne after a fight in the Walkabout in Shepherd's Bush Green in London with fans from nearby QPR. Powell, who was knocked out when hit with a stool, needed 10 stitches and lost two pints of blood. He later said it had been a "bit of banter". Payne's suspension was lifted 48 hours later after a club investigation but Powell's was not and he left the club at the end of the season by mutual consent.
Clive Woodward's ill-fated British and Irish Lions tour got underway as the squad met for the first time outside Cardiff. "This is the day it has all become real," said Woodward. "I am determined we leave no stone unturned in our preparations and this is the first opportunity for me to sit down with the players to discuss that. I am very impressed by them. They are totally up for it, focused and committed to doing the best possible for their clubs, countries and the Lions. I want this Tour to be different from any other with each player enjoying the experience, acting as an ambassador for their country as well as focussing on winning." It certainly was different, but not as planned. The squad, which ballooned to over 50 players, was subjected to a tour that rapidly became a PR nightmare and they were humbled 3-0 by the All Blacks in the Test matches.
An IRB vote gave Australia exclusive hosting rights to the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The sport's showpiece tournament, held every four years, was originally scheduled for Australia and New Zealand but World Cup organisers withdrew their invitation to New Zealand to co-host the tournament last month after officials refused to sign the sub-host agreement. The Kiwis found themselves axed due to concerns about their ability to provide venues without pre-booked advertising and seating. Tournament organisers had already been angered by the Kiwis' failure to move their domestic NPC Championship out of World Cup time, reluctantly agreeing to an overlap in the two competitions.
The Welsh Schools, with a young JPR Williams at full-back and Phil Bennett at fly-half, beat their English counterparts 6-0 at Newport in an Under-15 international. Wilson Lauder, later to play flanker for Scotland, was a member of the Welsh pack.
A World XV led by Scotland's David Sole beat New Zealand 28-14 in a Test to celebrate the Centenary of the NZRFU. New Zealand were on the score sheet thanks to tries from Inga Tuigamala and Richard Turner.
Skipper Dick Furbank celebrated his 82nd successive club match since November 1946 for Bedford by scoring a try to help them to a 26-8 win against Wakefield.