In sport, there will always be special fixtures to look out for. Few, however, can beat rugby matches between Australia and England — especially when they happen to be in a World Cup final, like I got to experience first-hand in 2003.
The tournament was held in Australia, so we were playing our old enemies in their own backyard. That took the pressure off us. But we didn’t approach it differently to any other game. We were told not to go out in the sun because it was too hot during the day, and we also weren’t meant to surf down at the beach — though a lot of us ignored those rules, of course.
We knew there was plenty of flak flying about in the Australian press. But being cocooned, we luckily avoided seeing things such as a cut-out Johnny Wilkinson voodoo doll that one Australian newspaper [Sydney’s Daily Telegraph] printed, and an article in another newspaper that said we were a one-man team.
My significant memory is of anxiety, because I didn’t start the game. Those nerves never go away when you’re on the bench — all you think about is what’s going to happen when you get on. It was 90-odd minutes of absolute pain watching the lead bounce from team to team, and it wasn’t until the final seven minutes of extra-time that I actually entered the game.
I remember that [forward] Ben Kay called me to the back of a line-out. I was surprised because I’d just come on to the field, but obviously he had some degree of confidence in me. That, or he didn’t realise how long I’d been on.
The line-out was by no means perfect, but I won it anyway. From there we pushed on and got a ruck, which led to [scrum-half] Matt Dawson passing it back to Jonny [Wilkinson], who scored a trademark drop-goal with just a few seconds remaining on the clock [pictured]. The move was almost choreographed.
We didn’t let the applause soak in. The job wasn’t complete, but the Aussies knew the writing was on the wall for them at that stage. They needed to win it back from kick-off to have a chance — and they didn’t.
I find that after big games like those you’re on a major come-down because you’ve had such a high. I have fond memories of celebrating back home, though — Trafalgar Square on a double-decker bus with Ken Livingstone, oddly, and then being awarded an MBE. That was a huge honour for me, but I think it was a bit extreme just for winning a game of rugby. But then again, it was the World Cup, and it was against the Aussies.
The Lewis Moody Rugby App is now available at the iTunes store, priced £3.99