Video Special: Gregan on the OTHER Jonny kick that won the 2003 World Cup

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Fifteen years on, to the day, the memories remain vivid for George Gregan.

Full house at ANZ Stadium, deep into extra time of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final and Jonny Wilkinson’s left boot being close enough to charge down. And then him using his right foot. Bang.

England win the World Cup.

"It was a slow car crash occurring but there was not much you could do,” Gregan says.

Anniversaries of major moments in sport are more remembered by the winners than the losers but the 15th birthday of THAT kick by Jonny this week - and England’s historic win on November 22, 2003 in Sydney - carries an unusual connection.

Then-Wallabies coach Eddie Jones is now wearing England’s colours, and he will be aiming to take down his home country again at Twickenham on Sunday morning. In the rival box will be his no.10 on that drizzly night in 2003, Stephen Larkham.

Gregan accepted an invitation to a 15-year anniversary dinner in London this week but prior to departing, the ex-Wallabies skipper - along with Justin Harrison - spoke with RUGBY.com.au about their memories of that infamous evening.

Forests of paper have been dedicated to Jonny’s drop goal since 2003 but Gregan revealed how he felt there was an earlier Wilkinson kick in extra-time that was equally important to England winning the World Cup.

After Elton Flatley knocked over several pressure kicks to draw level at the end of regulation time, Gregan said there was every indication the England team’s hopes of victory were fading.

"When it was 14-all at full-time, after we’d been down 14-5 at halftime, we had all the momentum,” Gregan said.

"There was a bit of bickering going on (in their huddle), you could just see there was some nervousness going on in that England team. Which they don’t talk about, they’ve forgot all about that. 

"But there was a bit of edginess there, and we felt like if we got in front with the first score … in extra time, they wouldn’t have scored since 50-60 minutes ago and they would have been feeling that, and the momentum and everything would have been turning. Sport is funny like that.

“So that first score was really important.”

The Wallabies gave away a penalty two minutes into the first period of extra time and up stepped Wilkinson.

"I think we got penalised for contesting in the air and Jonny knocked over a really big pressure kick, it was probably 50 metres all up really, on the angle and in really tough conditions,” Gregan said.

"And that gave them a sense of “ok, here we go”. 

"We went back into the mode we had been in the last 40-odd minutes. We had to get back in the fight and give ourselves a chance to put our noses in front. Which we never got a chance to, we were always chasing the game.”

The Wallabies drew level again but with just under two minutes left, a clearing kick from Mat Rogers gave England possession in the Aussie half and they began to push forward, waiting for a penalty or a field-goal opportunity.

England halfback Matt Dawson managed a crucial linebreak which took them into a kickable field goal range.

"It was really crucial (Dawson’s break) because we couldn’t set up as well as we would have liked to, to put the pressure on. When they released it, the rest is history,” Gregan said.

"It was a slow car crash occurring but there was not much you could do. They executed it really well. There is not much you can do when you’re in that scenario defensively.

"Someone could try and solve it themselves but then there is a risk of giving a penalty away. You don’t want to be doing that in that moment.

"I was targeting left boot, I remember it like it was yesterday. 

"But he caught it and straight away went to his right.”

"When it comes to sporting moments - I love all my sport - when someone does that, you say “fair play”. 

"You take your hat off and say too good. And they were too good, just, that night. It was that kind of a final. It was extra time, it was an epic match.

"You’re gutted. You are always going to regret not winning … but the effort, and I remember saying this to the group afterwards, you can’t fault the effort. 

"As coaches, as players, everyone who was part of that Wallabies team, they gave everything into that campaign and we came up a play short. You can live with it. It’s always going to hurt but you move on from it.”

Gregan said he understood the impact of the “epic” final when he bumped into Indian cricketers, including Sachin Tendulkar, back in Canberra the following January.

"They came up to us, myself, Roffy, Jeremy Paul and they said: “you guys, that World Cup final, we were in a pub in Melbourne, we were going for you, I can’t believe it”,” Gregan said.

"They were living it play by play and you think “that’s had a massive impact on those guys” and that’s the beauty of sport isn’t it?”