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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 17:02 GMT
Rugby Union: England prevail
By Simon Austin

England centre Will Greenwood celebrates clinching the Grand Slam
Posterity will remember 2003 as England's year.

Clive Woodward's men came into the season with much to prove.

They had not won the Grand Slam since 1995 and were mocked by the southern hemisphere as a side who got homesick away from Twickenham and peaked between World Cups.

England started their momentous season with a monumental clash - France in the opening match of the Six Nations.

The visitors began brilliantly, and although they stuttered in the second-half, they held on for a crucial win.

After that came victories over Italy, Scotland and Wales before a Grand Slam showdown against Ireland.

The Irish, skippered by mercurial centre Brian O'Driscoll in the absence of Keith Wood, scraped past France in Paris to set up the crunch match.

History was against Martin Johnson and his side. No away team had ever won a Grand Slam decider in the history of the tournament.

Yet England served notice of their World Cup intentions with a ruthless display of forward power and clinical finishing to win 42-6 and claim their first Grand Slam since 1995.

Sorry Wales occupied the bottom of the table.

They began with a demoralising defeat by improving Italy in Rome and failed to pick up a win after that.

England travelled to the southern hemisphere for one-off Tests against New Zealand and Australia in June and served notice of their World Cup intentions.

They beat the All Blacks 15-13 in Wellington - their first win on New Zealand soil for 30 years - despite being reduced to 13 men at one point.

A week later in Melbourne they out-scored Australia three tries to one to triumph 25-14.

Even David Campese was forced to sit up and take notice.

New Zealand's Richie McCaw (left) and Doug Howlett celebrate
The All Blacks put their disapointment behind them to complete a Tri-Nations clean sweep.

They began the tournament in devastating style, beating South Africa 52-16 in Pretoria and Australia 50-21 in Sydney.

Carlos Spencer, Doug Howlett and Joe Rockoko were the stars of a breathtaking back division.

John Mitchell's side had to fight harder to win their home matches, but beat South Africa 19-11 in Dunedin before squeezing past Australia 21-17 in Auckland to claim the Bledisloe Cup.

New Zealand also dominated the Super 12s, with a Spencer-inspired Auckland beating Canterbury in the final.

The Heineken Cup final was an all-French affair between glamorous Toulouse and unfashionable Catalans Perpignan.

Toulouse won 22-17 in an edgy contest at Lansdowne Road to regain a trophy they had won seven years previously.

And it was the end of an era for Leicester, who came into the season having won the league for the past four seasons as well as back to back Heineken Cups.

Yet the Welford Road side, deprived of their sizeable England contingent for much of the season, could manage only sixth in the Zurich Premiership in 2003 and the last eight of the Heineken Cup.

Gloucester won the Powergen Cup by beating Northampton at Twickenham and finished 15 points clear at the top of the Zurich Premiership.

However, despite their dominance, the title of champions of England controversially went to Wasps, who beat the Cherry and Whites in the inaugural play-off final.






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