I have a photograph hanging on the wall of my office, taken 10 years ago from high in the stands in the Telstra Stadium in Sydney. It is not a great picture but it is a special one. It was given to me by a good mate as a Christmas present after England won the World Cup – he and his wife got a couple of late tickets and took the photo as we celebrated on the pitch far below.
I remember being on the bench that night, sitting there and just wanting to get on. It was the biggest game of my life and I wanted to get out on that pitch. Then as time ticks on and the game is so close another feeling creeps in – what if I'm sent out there and I make the mistake that costs England the World Cup?
There was a fear there. But when it came to the moment to take the field all those nerves and anxiety melted away. It was so much more enjoyable being on the pitch than sitting there watching it. That is the abiding memory. There was that line-out, taking the line-out from which Jonny Wilkinson eventually dropped that goal, but that didn't feel like any big deal – that's what we did, the call, the catch and on we go.
There was no pressure or fear or anxiety by then. Because we had been through it so many times in training, preparing for all eventualities. When it came to it, it was second nature. We took the pressure off ourselves by preparing so well that we just dropped into our roles. When Jonny was lining up to take the drop goal I was waving at him to let him know the option for a cross-field kick was on. All the Aussies were focused on him. He was confident, dropped the goal and the rest is history.
As a team we should have kicked on from that success but, sadly, that was not the case. What came after it was not so memorable and this is why it is so important that England and the RFU plan not just for the World Cup in 2015 but beyond too.
In 2003 we had spent so long preparing for the World Cup so, when it happened and we won and Clive Woodward stepped away, there was nothing else in place. He was the driver of England's long-term vision and after his departure it was no surprise we had some torrid years.
You had to feel for Andy Robinson having to take over then. The RFU is a much tighter unit now; the England team, the RFU and all of its entities are working as one team – as they always should have done. In 2003 we, the England team, knew exactly what we had to do, from the players through the coaches and the physios. Clive made sure everything was in place. But I don't think the RFU was always working as a team. It was pulling in different directions.
Since Ian Ritchie took over, the RFU has taken giant leaps in working efficiently, making sure the team's success is now the priority, because that is what drives everything else within the RFU, the grass roots, the commercial, it drives everything. They have used the lessons of 2003, what went wrong and also what went right.
2003 was a missed opportunity. We had that extreme euphoria. We then had a lot of retirements but that should not have upset us – it was purely that Clive left, because he was the focus. It was his management that was driving everything. When he stepped away we took steps backwards, England as a side and the RFU – it was all a bit chaotic and was not well thought through or planned. We were still a good side but we had nowhere near the success there could have been if there had been more forward-planning. We were flying by the seats of our pants.
For too long England sides have been trying to emulate 2003 but Stuart Lancaster looks to be creating a team for 2015 and doing it his way. I like what I see. I went to watch training earlier this week and it made me itch to get back out there. Lancaster knows the history of the shirt, the pride and the culture that is so important, and like Clive he has got good guys in for the coaching and the medical staff.
He is a forward-thinker and a precise planner. His strengths are organising and managing – that is what he is, a manager. He has a good team of coaches: Andy Farrell, a real presence who commands respect – guys want to play for him – Mike Catt, who has real understanding of how rugby should be played, and Graham Rowntree.
Winning a World Cup is about having long-term goals, and shorter ones too to sustain the journey. Autumn has always been about blooding new talent but winning this first game against Australia is so important – win and it makes the rest of the autumn so much smoother.
There are a number of big chances to be seized. Joel Tomkins is a good defender – league players seem to understand and read attacks so well when they come over – and he is also an interesting prospect in attack.
It is a massive opportunity for Courtney Lawes to show Lancaster what he's about, a big, imposing, physical second row. We need someone akin to Martin Johnson, Danny Grewcock, Wade Dooley, that enforcer, and you need to ally that with someone who has the intelligence to call the line-outs. There is a lot of pressure on Lawes, as a player and as the man who calls the line-outs. It will be interesting to see how he handles the decision-making process.
Lee Dickson is the surprise inclusion. Ben Youngs had a good summer with the Lions and I would have started with him. He gives you that exciting edge, speed around the base, and he asks a lot of defences. But Dickson has been playing well. Competition for places is what drives teams to perform. In 2003 the competition was huge. Look at scrum-half: you had Kyran Bracken, Matt Dawson and Andy Gomarsall, and Austin Healey didn't even go. You had four guys who on their day were all world-class players. That sort of competition drives individuals week in, week out.
England are getting there. There are a couple of positions where I think Lancaster would want a bit more, the wings and No 8 for example – which is why it's exciting to see Billy Vunipola get his chance. He offers a physical presence off the base that Lawrence Dallaglio used to bring.
There is one final point about this line-up. Look at the bench: Ben Foden back in form, Youngs off the back of a Lions tour, Toby Flood with 57 caps and two World Cups, Dylan Hartley closing on 50 caps. Keep in the mind the likes of Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi missing through injuries and it's a strong group Lancaster is bringing together.
He said they need 600 caps in the side if they are going to win the World Cup and that has been proved historically. There is a long way to go but it is really exciting times.