ARRIVAL IN AUSTRALIA
3 October, Perth
Perth's a pretty quiet kind of place, not least at 2am in the morning, which is the time that we landed. So to be met by a crowd of around 500 England supporters at the airport really told us we'd arrived at the tournament. They were behind us from the start and they were letting us know it.
The training was tough in the build-up to the first match. We wanted to make the best start possible. I know that the team ethos, instilled by our coach, Clive Woodward, has been that we'd been preparing for this event for almost four years. That's true, it's something the whole England set-up has been working towards. But in all honesty, it's during the final three months' build-up that it dawns on you. And then being in Perth, waiting to play, you just want to get on with it. We were raring to go.
Sunday 12 October
Group match, Perth
England 84 Georgia 6
I don't get too many tries so to score England's first of the World Cup within minutes of our opener was something else. That'll stay with me, every second. We had an overlap and Jonny Wilkinson passed to me, but one of their players was coming at me and I was sure he was going to smash straight into me. Somehow I slipped through. What an unbelievable way to start.
I rushed off into the corner where all our supporters were and I gave them the old monkey wave, flapping my hand around in front of my face. Odd, yes, but it comes from the old TV seriesMonkey, where the guy used to blow kisses and do funny things with his hands. In the England squad, Iain Balshaw and I are known as the northern monkeys. Iain comes from Lancashire and I come from Yorkshire and the nickname was coined by the southern shandies in the squad.
We always knew the match with South Africa was going to be massive. Win it and we'd be on course for the side of the draw that we favoured. Lose and things could become more difficult at the quarter-final stage. On top of that, the match had been built up as the latest installment in a grudge match because we've had some fairly tasty games against South Africa, some really physical battles.
Inside the camp, we regarded the stuff in the press as banter and nothing more.
Saturday 18 October
Group match, Perth
England 25 South Africa 6
You've got be up for it and our attitude won the day. We stepped it up to a physical level, our forwards played well, Jonny kicked the goals. Job done. What happens outside the camp and what other people think about our performances don't come into it. The aim was to win and we did.
Other people's expectations are something we can't do anything about, so when people say we should beat Samoa easily, that's just their opinion. We never underestimated what they could do. We knew we could be in for a rough time: the question was how to come through it.
Sunday 26 October
Group match, Melbourne
England 35 Samoa 22
They were fast and powerful from the start, rampaging wide, putting us under huge amounts of pressure. If that had carried on through the whole match then we'd have been in trouble. But wewere expecting it. And when it came to half-time and we needed to regroup, Martin Johnson was instrumental in that happening. He just won't lose. In the second half we slowly built momentum and pressure. We won. Self-doubt is something for other people to talk about.
The intensity of the training decreased. We had a day at a water park and a golfing day. There was a lot of talk about how we weren't able to do anything but focus, focus, focus. But they let us go out too. We even went out for a team meal and a few beers in the run-up to the Uruguay match. I knew I wasn't going to play in that one anyway. I'd had three physical games and was resting a knock.
Sunday 2 November
Group match, Brisbane
England 111 Uruguay 13
It's always frustrating not being involved, not even being on the bench. The compensation in sitting in the stands is you get to watch England for a change, and they played magnificently.
The start of the knock-out stages meant the training became more intense in the run-up to meeting Wales. I think, to be honest, we spent too much time in the heat.
Sunday 9 November
England 28 Wales 17
When we got out there, it all felt a bit jaded to start with. And after the way they'd played against New Zealand earlier, we knew it wasn't going to be easy. I made a kicking error. They went to the other end and scored. It seemed at times as if we couldn't keep the ball. Again it was about re-grouping and in the second half we looked a different team.
Things became more relaxed. We didn't want to over-train. When the team was announced I was dropped and Mike Catt came in instead. You can talk about team spirit - all true - and you can acknowledge that it's a tactical decision, but I was gutted. I made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to let it get me down. And it also made it easier that Mike is a colleague at Bath and we're mates.
Sunday 16 November
England 24 France 7
I was confident we'd get through. There's still the final to come: that's what I was thinking throughout the match from the bench. And I needed to console myself that there was still another chance to get back in. In the end, I came on towards the end anyway.
It was really weird not being involved from the start in the semi-final. But as we moved towards the final the atmosphere in the camp was so relaxed, genuinely, that I didn't feel nervous or dwell on it. We'd made it to the final.
Then Clive made his decision about the team and I was in and it was Mike Catt's turn to be dropped. Again a tactical decision. Mike took it brilliantly. I knew he would.
I had to take myself aside and give myself a talking to. It's a cliché, but the only way to prepare was to think of it as another game. Still, other thoughts did come in, things like: "After all these years of playing rugby, it's been working up to this. Now it's here." You just have to believe you're ready for whatever happens.
Saturday 22 November
World Cup final, Sydney
England 20 Australia 17 (after extra time)
Everyone has kept telling us how tense the game was to watch, but when you're out there you play it minute by minute. You don't have time to dwell on things. You just play. One thing I can say is this: whatever mistakes we made, whatever happened out there, I know that I couldn't have done any more. I'm sure that applies to all the other lads.
After only seven minutes we went five points down when Lote Tuqiri went over, but there was no panic. Jonny's first penalty put us on the board and before long he'd put us in front with two more. When Jason scored his try just before half-time, I'm sure the fans started to believe we were on our way. When you're on the pitch, you don't think like that: all you can do is concentrate on what you're going to do next.
One moment in the first half stands out, when I tackled George Gregan, the Australian captain. I know a lot of people enjoyed watching that. I just happened to catch him as he tried to run over me. It was right in front of all the England fans - it seemed like tens of thousands of them. I just thought: "I've got to try to smash him into the floor. The fans will love that." That was it. I knew I had to drop him and I did. Our supporters went barmy.
The second half was incredibly intense. A nine-point lead is nothing against a team like Australia. They're the ultimate competitors. Two penalties from Elton Flatley put them within three points with nearly 20 minutes to go. We had our own chances to score, but the clock ticked on. With two minutes left on the clock I was replaced by Mike Catt. Then, unbelievably, with only moments remaining the Australians got a penalty. Flatley scored. Extra time.
Watching the game from the bench was an absolute nightmare. There was nothing I could do. Jonny put us in front with another penalty, only for Flatley to hold his nerve once again to put Australia level. Agony. Absolute agony. Time was running out. Then Dawson made a break down the middle. Jonny was in the pocket. He kicked. The rest is history.
Becoming a World Cup winner
Saturday 22 November
It's hard to describe what I felt as the ball flew over. The match seemed to go on for a long time afterwards but it was actually only a few seconds before the final whistle. I can't say that I felt relief or joy or anything like that because, quite frankly, I had no idea what to do at all. I stood there. I shouted. I thought: "What do I do now?"
All this time we'd been building up to this moment and then I didn't know what to do with it. We thanked the crowd, we received the trophy and our medals. We got ourselves off the pitch. I'm sure it'll take a long, long time to make sense of it.
In the evening we went to a bar where a fantastic party had been arranged. My parents were there, and my brother, Ian. No wife or girlfriend - I'm the only single one in the team. We went on to a club called Cargo and had a few more beers watching the sun come up.
The morning after the night before
Sunday 23 November
The party mood didn't stop. We had a few beers and a relaxing day. In the evening we went to the awards dinner. Jonny won player of the year, Clive won coach of the year and we all won team of the year.
I have to mention our captain, Martin Johnson. Wilko's knocked over the kicks but Jonno is truly awesome. Everything that we've done is a reflection of him, a reflection of his absolute belief in who he is and who we are. He's an amazing guy to play alongside.
Aboard the sweetest of chariots
In the air, Australia to London, Monday 24 November
British Airways renamed our homecoming plane Sweet Chariot. It was. We'd decided that we'd all have a quiet flight so we just had a couple of beers at the airport. But the atmosphere in the air was still something special.
The Webb Ellis Trophy went up on the flight deck for part of the journey to keep the pilots company. Then we decided it should be a shared experience and a couple of the boys - Lawrence Dallaglio and Ben Cohen were prominent - took it back into economy class to show it the fans. It really kicked off, the place went mental. Our supporters have been wonderful throughout the whole tournament and it was good to let them share the trophy too.
Home, sweet home
Tuesday 25 November
At four o'clock in the morning I reckoned we'd have about 500 or 600 people waiting to greet us. We walked out of the arrivals gate and there must have been 6,000 or 7,000 at least. The place was going absolutely nuts. I think it was only at that moment, hitting that wall of sound, that it started to hit us what we've achieved. But it still hasn't really started to sink in.
On a few occasions in the last couple of days I've had little moments - not particularly eloquent, I admit - when I've thought: "Fuck me, we've done something here." But coming to terms with it, who knows how long that'll take? I should be over the moon, or beyond. But it's still very weird. And it's time to get back to normal, get back playing rugby for Bath. After I've seen my friends for a couple of drinks, that is.Reuse content