On top of the World!
Well what can I say that has not already been said a thousand times this week! England won the Rugby World Cup in the most nail-biting final there has ever been! On the edge of your seat, on the edge of your sanity, if you watched it, you still could not quite believe it. Twenty seconds to go in the last ten minutes of extra time, the scores level, Australia refusing to give in, England needed a penalty but what did we get - a fantastic, unbelievable drop goal from the golden boot of Jonny Wilkinson. We were hoping beyond hope for divine intervention and we surely got it.
Rugby World Cup - The Final
Australia - 17 England - 20
This game was rugby at its best. The weather was once again topsy-turvy with the now expected Australian rain - what happened to the sun during the World Cup? Who can say - it was not in Australia, that's for sure. The England squad came out this time looking a little more relaxed than they did against France, the previous week, and somehow you could detect the power in them. Six minutes in, you were made to rethink as Lote Tuqiri scored a try for Australia. England then started to pile on the pressure and Jonny did his stuff with three penalties. Despite Waltzing Matilda echoing around the ground, Jason Robinson scored a fantastic try, weaving his way to the touchline to bring the score to 14 - 5. Swing Low Sweet Chariot!
Half time and England were full of hope for the second half. Unfortunately whoever wrote the script for this game had forgotten to tell England what was to happen next! They failed to gain a single point in the second half - not one! The Aussies fought back and England made errors giving away penalties, the last one in the final seconds of the game. The score was even! Extra time was the name of the game now. Joy, oh joy; Wilkinson kicked a penalty putting England in the lead! This must be it - but no, England gave away a penalty! Flatley obliged and the score was once again level! Twenty seconds to go, a break from Matt Dawson, Johnson charged forward, a quick ruck, ball out, to find Jonny waiting in front of the posts and miracle upon miracle his right foot connected sending the ball up and away over the bar! It seemed to go in slow motion, but go it did. A clearance from Catt ensured that the Aussie squad could not recover from this piece of magic - the game was finally won. The cup belonged to England. Our boys had won!
A few interesting facts concerning the England Squad. Simon Shaw was the only England squad member not to play in any of the games. Lawrence Dallaglio played every minute of every game England played. Jonny Wilkinson was the top points scorer of the tournament with 113 points to his golden boot. By the way, England won the World Cup.
Whilst players were winning the World Cup down under, their squads back at home were continuing the struggle for the top of the league. Newcastle Falcons were playing without the sure fire kicking of Jonny Wilkinson, Leicester and London Wasps Captains, Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio were also making their mark against the Aussies. Despite these key players being absent, the teams have worked hard with new blood, regrouped and continued to win important matches. In some cases it's difficult to see how easy it will be to fit the missing places back into the first teams without casting aside players who have come to the front during these first few weeks of the season. What it does mean, is that there now will be more experienced players sitting on the bench ready to step into the breach, should the need arise.
London Wasps - 20 Gloucester - 12
The night before the World Cup Final found Wasps in the rain playing against old foes Gloucester. The last time the two teams played against each other, was at Twickenham back in the summer when Gloucester were top of the league on points. The rules for the first time stated that there should be a play off of the top two teams to decide the Championship. Gloucester had played well all season with Wasps form improving as the season progressed taking them to second place. Gloucester's season finished some weeks earlier and when it came to the final they were a little out of practice compared to Wasps who had been playing right up to the day, sometimes in very hot conditions.
Well, to cut a long story short Wasps wiped the floor with Gloucester to win the title. Amid talk of the rules being wrong, unfairness for Gloucester to lose the title in this way and many other long drawn out conversations, Wasps were, to a degree, ignored and the congratulations due to them for the achievement on the day has always been somewhat muted. This was the backdrop to this Friday's game. Wasps wanted to show that they could still beat Gloucester, that they deserved the title, and Gloucester wanted revenge.
The first part of the game in slippery conditions saw both teams giving penalties away, the difference being that Van Gisbergen for Wasps managed to make his count to give the lead at 9 - 3. Gloucester held Wasps with their defence despite frequent attempts to get through. Just before half time Gloucester's Henry Paul finally found his mark to take the score to 9 - 6.
The second half started ignominiously for Wasps as they gave away two penalties which again Paul scored from taking Gloucester into the lead. It looked like we were going down, until an inspirational move from Van Gisbergen took the ball down the line where it literally bounced into Fraser Waters hands. Off he went and the try was scored. The conversion was missed but at least Wasps were back in the lead once more. Three replacements in the 57th minute saw Alex King back from a knee injury and in the 65th minute he demonstrated his return with a drop goal, regaining the lead once more. Ironically the last time he played was against Gloucester in the final. From then on Wasps looked like they were going to win, Rob Howley and Paul Volley played the game like men possessed. They managed to keep the ball in the Gloucester half and although Gloucester were given a penalty they were unable to convert it into points. Gloucester did all they could to hold the score at 17 - 12, knowing that they could pick up a bonus point for being within five points, but Wasps had different ideas. They picked up a penalty and Van Gisberg scored another three points with the final kick of the match in injury time. Once again Gloucester were denied any satisfaction from a match against Wasps.
It was a grey, wet night at The Causeway but for Wasp fans the sun shone as bright as the day of the final at Twickenham.
Zurich Premiership Team Standings