For 380 passengers on BA016, the bavarois was good, but the taste of victory was much sweeter

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The Independent Online

For the rugby fans travelling back to England on board flight BA016, there could only have been one moment sweeter than the glorious few seconds after Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal realised the World Cup dream.

It came with the simple announcement from the pilot ,Captain Stew Edwards, just before take-off from Sydney and it sent ripples through the 380 passengers on board the aircraft. He announced: "We are privileged to be taking home the cup and our glorious rugby team. We have the trophy safely on board. All we have to do is get out of Australia."

And it only got better for the fans on board the British Airways jumbo, renamed Sweet Chariot, after further messages announced that team members, sitting in the business-class section of the plane, would be making their way down the aisles of first, traveller and economy class with the hallowed Webb Ellis Trophy, to sign autographs during the 22-hour flight.

On a plane where even the trophy got its very own seat, it was relentless celebration all the way.

A Rugby Union spokesman travelling with the 30-strong squad on the trip, which stopped for two hours at Singapore for a change of cabin crew, said the players were happy to meet the public despite their fatigue. "It was a very good atmosphere on board. They took the trophy to the fans and [signed] autographs for over an hour."

Fellow passengers were overwhelmed by the knowledge that they were sharing the 10,568-mile journey with the conquering players. Jakki Meads, 42, a banker from London, said he felt he was travelling in the company of greatness.

He said: "I cannot tell you how I am feeling right now. I've seen my idols. I've seen the cup."

Louise Davies, a fan from Gloucestershire who had celebrated her honeymoon by following the rugby team with her husband, Richard, managed to persuade Lawrence Dallaglio to take a cherished photograph of herself with the trophy.

Air traffic controllers flooded the airwaves with messages of goodwill to the team as the jet entered Belgian air space and Captain Bob Ryan, who took over from Mr Edwards to pilot the flight from Singapore to London, said: "The messages started coming in as we entered Maastricht air space. One air traffic controller sent a message congratulating Jonny Wilkinson on behalf of his daughter, Francesca."

He added: "I don't think the team got much rest. They spent the majority of the journey celebrating with the other passengers."

The team celebrated with large quantities of Laurent-Perrier Brut champagne. An extra eight crates of beer had been loaded on to the plane for the celebrations, as well as an extensive cocktails and wine list.

After nearly two months of Australian cuisine, the team tucked into a British fry-up on the plane. During the main leg of the trip, they chose from a continental menu of grilled tuna, buffalo mozzarella cheese appetisers followed by fillet steak with peppercorn sauce, breast of chicken or roast vegetable lasagne and a choice of lime bavarois with raspberries and mango, cheese biscuits or fruit for desert.

In-flight entertainment included the uproariously popular Rugby World Cup highlights, followed by the usual fare of Hollywood blockbusters

The 14-strong cabin crew, who had made their own personal announcements to the players and toasted their victory with the air traffic controllers, clapped alongside passengers as the captain announced the landing.

He said: "The Sweet Chariot has landed and the World Cup is now firmly on English ground.

"We have been looking after it on the flight deck all night and I definitely saw a smile on its face when we landed on English soil ... Goodbye and thank you."

After the unceasing announcements and jubilation across the seas, the team touched down at Heathrow airport just after 4.33am. Judging by the thousands of fans who cheered the players off the flight, their 35,000ft-high celebrations from Sydney to London were just the beginning.