| England’s Jonny Wilkinson in action during the rugby World Cup final in Sydney on Saturday. (Reuters)
Sydney, Nov. 22 (AFP): Players from both sides praised Jonny Wilkinson after the nerveless fly-half’s last ditch drop goal gave England a dramatic 20-17 victory over Australia in the World Cup final here on Saturday.
With the scores tied and the match destined for sudden-death, ice-cool Wilkinson’s boot gave England victory in the final minute of extra-time at Olympic Stadium.
England captain Martin Johnson said: “With 20 minutes of extra-time, it can go anyway but Wilko was there and right at the death you would have no-one else, would you'”
Wilkinson, 24, kicked 15 points in all, from four penalties and one drop goal. England’s only other score was a Jason Robinson try.
“We were frustrated in the second half. You’ve got to give credit to Australia, they are a very good team, they came back and made it difficult for us,” double British Lions captain Johnson admitted.
“I’m just happy for the players,” the Leicester lock added. “They’ve put so much into it and the management, they’ve put their heart and soul into it... It couldn’t have been any closer, I’m just glad we were on the right side of it.”
Defeated Australia captain George Gregan said of Wilkinson: “He’s outstanding under pressure. He missed a few early in the match but he knocked the one over that counted and you’ve got to take your hat off to him for that.”
But the scrum-half, a member of the Australia team that won the World Cup in Cardiff four years ago, added: “But I’m so proud of my guys. We gutsed it out, we fought back, we were down 14-5, we brought it back to extra-time.
“We just came up a little short.”
Wilkinson himself was typically modest about his winning effort. “I missed two, then I missed three and then fortunately the fourth went over. You never know with 20 seconds to go but I certainly felt better than the minute before.”
He added: “It’s indescribable. It’s something we’ve wanted, we’ve worked for so long both individually and as a team. The work goes back four or five years. We’ve tried to put it in for every single game, we’ve put ourselves on the line,” he said.
“We have had a hard year, we’ve attacked each one and now you know we are here and we feel like hopefully we deserve this. It’s been one of those years certainly I’ll never forget.”
Australia’s Brendan Cannon said there was a sense of inevitability about the way England won. “You always felt Jonny Wilkinson would be there and he was at the end.
And the hooker added: “We felt we were good enough.. It’s disappointing to come up short but that’s life and all credit to England.”
Meanwhile, England No.8 Lawrence Dallaglio said victory had been the ideal way for an ageing pack to answer its critics in the Australian media. “It’s fantastic. They called us Dad’s Army. I think we proved something tonight and credit to Australia. They hung in there and I’m sure back home (in England) they’re going absolutely berserk.”
For England wing Ben Cohen victory meant completion of a special family double as his uncle, George Cohen, had been England’s right-back in their 1966 soccer World Cup final-winning team.
“I can’t quite say enough words today how I feel, especially with the World Cup footy (soccer). It’s two wins in the family. I can’t believe it, it’s fantastic.”
Normally eloquent England coach Clive Woodward, for whom this win was the culmination of six years’ work, was lost for words.
“It’s just been fantastic ... I’m speechless,” Woodward said.
And he admitted his nerves had been torn to shreds as England squandered their interval advantage. “I was going nuts to be honest.. But we’ve won the World Cup so who cares what I thought.”