More than 30,000 English men and women were painting the town red and white and flying the Union flag on Sydney Harbour Bridge last night as they celebrated two astonishing possibilities.
One is that England's rugby union team will beat Australia for a fifth straight time. The other is they will also win the nation's second World Cup, 37 years after Sir Alf Ramsey's football team defeated Germany at Wembley.
Among the England revellers, who have also included Prince Harry and Sir Richard Branson, was one of the heroes of that most celebrated day in English sports history, George Cohen, the right back for England in 1966 who has arrived to support his nephew Ben, left wing threequarter in the team taking on the reigning world champions at 9am today.
For the nephew and uncle it was an eve-of-battle embrace which carried considerable poignancy. Three years ago Ben's father, and George's younger brother, Peter, a nightclub owner in Northampton, died a month after becoming the victim of a gang assault. George said: "Peter was so proud of Ben's achievements, and the only sadness now is that he isn't around to enjoy such a great day. But it's a great joy to me to be here representing the family ... and cheering Ben and his team-mates on. They have done brilliantly and worked so hard."
At the request of the England coach, Clive Woodward, George, showed his World Cup medal to the rugby team and urged them to produce the performance of their lives. But there is certainly no shortage of motivation for a team which all week has been described by the Australian press as the most "boring sports team on earth". Woodward said: "We are very pleased with our preparation, delighted with the tremendous support we've received, and have now reached the point where we can't wait to win the game."
The most frequent toast among the thousands of England fans in Sydney was to Jonny Wilkinson, the fly half whose kicking has made him England's hero and Australia's public enemy number one. Already the world's best-paid rugby player, Wilkinson's reward for another winning performance would be a flood of new sponsorships, pushing his annual income to about £8m.Reuse content