The greatest moment in English sport since 1966 was confirmed yesterday when Jonny "Is that all you've got?" Wilkinson landed the sweetest of drop goals in the dying seconds of extra time to break brave Australian hearts, and confound the taunting words of their cheerleading media, in front of more than 82,000 spectators and a television audience of hundreds of millions.
Wilkinson's wonder kick, with his weaker right foot, enabled England's inspirational captain, Martin Johnson, to set the seal on a towering career by receiving the Webb Ellis Cup from the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard.
England, who triumphed 20-17 in Sydney's glorious Telstra Stadium after a titanic but error-strewn battle with their dogged opponents, thus became the nation's first World Cup winners since Alf Ramsey's footballing heroes, who also had to go to extra time before beating West Germany at Wembley 37 years ago.
Poignantly, George Cohen, a member of that 1966 side, was in the stadium last night to watch his nephew Ben become his family's second World Cup winner.
Each side scored one try apiece - Lote Tuqiri going over early for the Australians and Jason Robinson replying in kind for England before half-time. The rest of the points came from the boots of the two place-kickers, Wilkinson and Elton Flatley, who landed four penalties each.
England led 14-5 at half-time and seemingly had Australia on the rack. But the men in gold dug in after the break and, despite being at a considerable territorial disadvantage, somehow managed to kick three penalties without reply to pull level just before the end of normal time.
After his team had become the first from the northern hemisphere to lift the Rugby World Cup, at the fifth attempt, Johnson and the England coach, Clive Woodward, saluted the 30,000 fans who had cheered on the side with repeated renditions of its anthem, "Swing low, sweet chariot".
"I just want to say a massive thanks to every fan in the stadium tonight. It was just fantastic," Woodward said. "It was unbelievable. I was going nuts because we just kept getting ourselves into trouble, making error after error. But who cares, we won, we won the World Cup."
Johnson said: "It was a huge effort by the entire squad of players, coaches and backroom staff. Thanks to the fans, they were incredible. You've got to give credit to Australia, they're a very good team, and they made it very difficult for us. It couldn't have been any closer and I'm just happy I'm on the right side."
Wilkinson, who had missed his three earlier drop-goal attempts, said: "I want to hold on to this moment for as long as possible. It was probably the easiest drop goal of the game. I have been practising that kind of kick since I was five or six."Reuse content