Australia and Argentina kicked off the fifth Rugby World Cup in front of a record tournament crowd of 81,350 in Sydney's vast Olympic Stadium. The Wallabies were favoured to do well at home and started with a 24-8 victory in the toughest pool, which also included Ireland.

The passionate Irish had two of the most memorable matches in the early rounds. At the Adelaide Oval, No 8 Alan Quinlan scored the only try in an absorbing 16-15 victory over Argentina, before Ireland gave the Wallabies an almighty fright in a repeat of the 1991 thriller. George Smith scored a fine try for the home team, matched by Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, but the key moment was an audacious drop goal by Wallaby halfback George Gregan in their 17-16 win.

European heavyweights France and Scotland advanced through pool play without much fuss but were not convincing against lightweights Japan and the United States. World Cup debutants Georgia caused some interest by banning outsiders from their training runs and captain Ilia Zedginidze's declaration they would win all their matches. Sadly for him, Georgia conceded 200 points in their four games.

Crowd favourites Fiji, Tonga and Samoa proved to be tough competition for their more fancied opponents. Fiji's best performance was against Scotland with livewire winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca scoring two tries. The Scots only managed one but the deadly boot of Chris Paterson got his team home 22-20. Tonga lost all four pool games but they should have beaten Wales with better goalkicking. Samoa's best moment came against the strong English team in Melbourne, when they led into the second half but eventually went down 35-22.


The All Blacks coached by John Mitchell had a relatively easy ride through to the quarter-finals, with straightforward victories over Italy by 70-7, Canada by 68-6 with Mils Muliaina scoring four tries, and 91-7 over Tonga. But the game against Wales in front of a sell-out crowd in Sydney was not only a nail biter until the dying stages but the most entertaining game of the World Cup so far. The All Blacks jumped out to a comfortable 28-10 lead after 30 minutes, scoring four tries with flying winger Joe Rokocoko snatching two. The Welsh then shocked the All Blacks by firing back with two more tries of their own to trail 28-24 at halftime. They kept in touch and were only down 37-33 late into the game when the All Blacks added three more tries for a 53-37 win.

The key clash between South Africa and England would have a major impact on the later stages of the tournament, as the loser would probably meet the All Blacks in the quarter-final and Australia in the semifinal. England won 25-6 with a try to Will Greenwood and 20 points to wonder-kid Jonny Wilkinson.

England came to Australia confident of success after 15 wins from their last 16 games under canny coach Clive Woodward. They now faced Wales in the quarter-finals and looked serious tournament champions.

The All Blacks and Springboks clashed in the opening quarter-final inside the splendid Telstra Dome in Melbourne. Leon MacDonald scored a try and kicked the goals for a 13-3 lead for the All Blacks, who were never stretched by the disappointing Springboks. Later tries to Keven Mealamu and Rokocoko made sure of the 29-9 win.

Australia easily beat Scotland 33-16 but France had to endure a second half rally from Ireland before winning 43-21. The French scored four tries to lead 27-0 after 47 minutes but a brace from the excellent O'Driscoll and another to Kevin Maggs gave some respectability to the scoreline.

The England v Wales battle was a classic. Wales, coached by New Zealander Steve Hansen, ripped into their work to lead 10-3 at the break after a try to inspirational captain Colin Charvis. But the resilience and experience of England shone through, as they stayed calm and Greenwood scored after a fine break by diminutive winger Jason Robinson. A conversion and five penalty goals to Wilkinson put England well ahead. Wales did score a third try near the end but trudged off Suncorp Stadium 28-17 losers.

The All Blacks were favourites to beat the Wallabies in the first semifinal before a new record crowd of 82,444 in Sydney. Only four months earlier the All Blacks battered the Aussies 50-21 on the same pitch but from the outset the Wallabies dominated. A critical error from first-five Carlos Spencer after 10 minutes gifted Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock an easy intercept, and essentially the match-winning try.

The Wallabies tackled like demons to keep the brilliant attacking trio of Muliaina, Rokocoko and Doug Howlett quiet. All Blacks captain Reuben Thorne scored a try to close the gap to 13-7 by halftime but five penalty goals to Elton Flatley kept the Wallabies out of reach. It was a poor performance from the All Blacks, who left the ground with Wallaby halfback Gregan's cruel taunt of "four more years" stinging their ears.

Any serious chance France had of beating England in the second semifinal evaporated as heavy rain meant little chance of them running the huge English pack around. Conditions were perfect for England's 10-man rugby and Wilkinson was the star, kicking five penalties and three dropped goals in the 24-7 victory.

The All Blacks and France had to endure the play-off for third. Tries to Chris Jack and Howlett put the All Blacks ahead 14-6 at halftime before France scored immediately after the break to close the gap to one point. Rokocoko then eased the tension with a fine try before three more were added in quick succession as the All Blacks eased away to win 40-13.

And so after 47 matches it came down to the final between two evenly balanced sides. The Wallabies had used an Aussie Rules coach in training and his work paid off immediately when Lote Tuqiri soared through the air to score the opening points. Wilkinson's lethal left boot kicked England into a 9-5 lead they held until just before the break when England winger Robinson caught Wendell Sailor out of position and scuttled in for a fine individual try.

England's 14-5 advantage was reduced by Flatley's two penalties to 14-11 until the final minute. South African referee Andre Watson awarded a penalty and Flatley held his nerve to calmly slot the goal to take the match into two 10-minute periods of extra time.

Both kickers added penalties to tie the game up 17-17 running into the final 38 seconds ahead of a unique penalty shoot out when England struck to win the match. They threw to a lineout 35 metres out and outwitted the Australians by throwing to the unmarked Lewis Moody at the back. England drove forward with Johnson making the final charge, before halfback Matt Dawson passed to Wilkinson and he calmly slotted the drop goal with his weaker right foot to win the World Cup.

Scrum penalty set up thriller
It is universally acknowledged that a rugby team in Australian colours must be in want of a frontrow.

But, on 29 November, 2003, it seemed referee Andre Watson hadn't read the book. The Wallabies fielded a frontrow with the reputation of a Schnauzer-Poodle to do battle with an angry English bulldog, but Watson still gave a crucial scrum penalty to take the World Cup final into extra time.

The England frontrow had not been penalised once in the tournament before the final, yet conceded four penalties in the match. The most crucial came at the end of regulation time when Watson called out the English frontrowers for not engaging. Elton Flatley whacked over the equalising penalty to go 14-14. Jonny Wilkinson's extra-time drop goal set matters right.

"I have no regrets, and I would risk my mortgage that the penalty decision was the right one," said Watson, who insisted that England prop Trevor Woodman was not binding. "If it's the first minute of a club match or the last minute of a tight World Cup final, this is a penalty.

"I know that I would have been ridiculed in England if they had not won," acknowledged Watson.

"Ridiculed" doesn't do justice to the reaction the English press would have served a man they perceived to have robbed them of a first major sporting title in decades.

Unlucky 13 key to semifinal defeat
The outcome: The All Blacks lost their semifinal 22-10 to Australia at Sydney

See if this sounds familiar: beat Italy 70-7, beat Canada 68-6, beat Tonga 91-7, beat Wales 53-37. So far so good for John Mitchell's mob?

The only problem was that Tana Umaga picked up an injury against Italy which was to have far-reaching consequences.

Umaga was then ensconced as centre, so that forced a reshuffle. Ma'a Nonu had a turn before the management settled on Leon MacDonald, a resilient, courageous, hard-running fullback.

MacDonald was at centre as Tonga were demolished, a gallant Wales seen off in an exhilarating contest, and South Africa eliminated. He scored tries in each of those games and his goalkicking was impressive.

But this business of not playing a specialist in the crunch games bit the All Blacks against the Wallabies.

Whether having a dyed-in-the-wool No 13, with a strong appreciation of positional requirements, squaring off against a rampaging Stirling Mortlock would have made any difference that night is a moot point.

Mortlock's interception of a long, hopeful pass by Carlos Spencer and 80m gallop was the defining memory of the match.

So too George Gregan's taunting "Four more years!" late in the game.

There were plenty of whispers that this was an unhappy All Black camp, with dissent proving a destabilising influence.

There was one other point: the Wallabies weren't half a bad outfit. Remember, this was the third time in four tournaments the All Blacks had fallen at the second-to-last hurdle. Worse was to follow ...

The Breakdown
Pool D
Telstra Dome, Melbourne, 11 October
New Zealand v Italy: 70-7
Referee: A J Cole, Australia
Half-time score: 25-0
For New Zealand
Tries: D. W. Carter (1), D. C. Howlett (2), L. R. MacDonald (1), J W. Marshall (1), J. T. Rokocoko (2), C. J. Spencer (2), B. C. Thorn (1), R. D. Thorne (1)
Conversions: D. W. Carter (6)
Penalties : C. J. Spencer (1)
For Italy
Tries: M. Phillips (1)
Conversions: G. Peens (1)

Telstra Dome, Melbourne, October 17
New Zealand v Canada: 68-6
Referee: A J Spreadbury, England
Half-time score: 28-3
For New Zealand
Tries: K. J. Meeuws (1), J. M. Muliaina (4), M. A Nonu (1), C. S. Ralph (2), R. So'oialo (2)
Conversions: D. W. Carter (9)
For Canada
Penalties: J. Baker (2)

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, October 24
New Zealand v Tonga: 91-7
Referee: P Deluca, Argentina
Half-time score: 35-0
For New Zealand
Tries: D. J. Braid (1), D. W. Carter (1), C. R. Flynn (1), D. C. Howlet (2), L. R. MacDonald (1), K. J. Meeuws (1), J. M. Muliaina (2), C. S. Ralph (2), C. J. Spencer (1)
Penalty tries: (1)
Conversions: L. R. MacDonald (12), C. J. Spencer (1)
For Tonga
Tries: P. Hola (1)
Conversions: S. M. Tu'ipulotu (1)

Telstra Stadium, Sydney, November 2
New Zealand v Wales: 53-37
Referee: A J Watson, South Africa
Half-time score: 28-24
For New Zealand
Tries: D. C. Howlett (2), L. R MacDonald (1), A. J. D. Mauger (1), J. T. Rokocoko (2), C. J. Spencer (1), A. J. Williams (1)
Conversions: L. R. MacDonald (5)
Penalties: L. R. MacDonald (1)
For Wales
Tries: C. L. Charvis (1), S. T. Parker (1), M. Taylor (1), S. Williams (1)
Conversions: S. M. Jones (4)
Penalties: S. M. Jones (3)

Quarter-final, Melbourne, November 8
New Zealand v South Africa: 29-9
Referee: A J Spreadbury, England
Half-time score: 13-6
For New Zealand
Tries: L. R. MacDonald (1), K. F. Mealamu (1), J. T. Rokocoko (1)
Conversions: L. R. MacDonald (1)
Penalties: L. R. MacDonald (3)
Drop Goals: A. J. D. Mauger (1)
For South Africa
Penalties: D. J. Hougaard (3)

Semifinal, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, November 15
Australia v New Zealand: 22-10
Referee: C White, England
Half-time score: 13-7
For New Zealand
Tries: R. D. Thorne (1)
Conversions: L. R. MacDonald (1)
Penalties: L. R. MacDonald (1)
For Australia
Tries: SA Mortlock (1)
Conversions: EJ Flatley (1)
Penalties: EJ Flatley (5)

Playoff, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, November 20
New Zealand v France: 40-13
Referee: C White, England
Half-time score: 14-6
For New Zealand
Ties: MR Holah (1), DC Howlett (1), CR Jack (1), JM Muliaina (1), JT Rokocoko (1), B. C.Thorn (1)
Conversions: DW. Carter (4), LR MacDonald (1)
For France
Tries: P Elhorga (1)
Conversions: D Yachvili (1)
Penalties: D Yachvili (1)
Drop Goals: D. Yachvili (1)

Video: Great World Cup moments - 2003

How we won it: England - A bloody-minded band of brothers

Setting the scene: Mitchell at the helm as England rises

Tournament action: Four more years - the tournament goes on

Tournament star: Martin Johnson - Hard leader of the pack

ABs memories: 'Danger of World Cups is they mean so much'
Video:Great World Cup moments - 2003

How we won it: South Africa - Python applies squeeze

Setting the scene: Henry gets his (first) go at the title
Ref's contentious calls leave nation seething

Tournament action: Boks hold nerve in a Cup of big upsets

Tournament star: Agustin Pichot - Skipper who shamed IRB

ABs memories: 'It was like slow strangulation'
Looking ahead:High stakes in road to redemption
Hold heads high whatever the result
World Cup highlights
The greatest upsets
The greatest RWC tries