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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 12:01 GMT
England endure rollercoaster year
By Bryn Palmer

Best and worst of 2004

Just as in 2003, Jonny Wilkinson occupied more column inches than any other rugby player in 2004.

And yet the World Cup hero only played seven competitive matches this year, and none for England.

The legacy of England's triumph down under left rugby's superstar nursing a career-threatening shoulder injury that eventually required surgery.

After finally making it back onto the field in September, Wilkinson was on the sidelines again as the year ended.

Without Wilkinson and retired captain Martin Johnson, England were only third best in Europe after the Six Nations.


The anticipated party for their return to Twickenham became a wake as Ireland enjoyed a stunning upset, and defeat to champions France confirmed the frailty.

But after a disastrous summer tour of New Zealand and Australia, England returned to form in the autumn.

Victory over South Africa galvanised Andy Robinson's new regime before the Wallabies extracted World Cup revenge.

Sir Clive Woodward, the architect of victory down under, had gone, resigning in September in frustration over lack of time with his players.

And the break-up of his squad continued with Jason Leonard, Kyran Bracken, Neil Back, Paul Grayson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mark Regan following Johnson.

Ireland's Twickenham triumph helped them land the Triple Crown for the first time in 19 years.

And Wales also showed signs of recovery with a return to the style of the 1970s.

With Mike Ruddock replacing Steve Hansen as coach after the Six Nations, the Welsh came agonisingly close to beating South Africa and New Zealand.

But Ireland did manage to beat the Springboks for only the second time in their history.

Wasps celebrate their Heineken Cup victory
Wasps enjoyed a notable double
Only Scotland, who lost twice to Australia in the summer and twice more in the autumn, were struggling to keep pace with the other home unions.

Defeat to Italy in Rome condemned the Scots to the Six Nations wooden spoon.

England's domestic game flourished on the back of their World Cup triumph, with club attendances up by a third.

Wasps retained their knack of peaking at the right time by beating Bath in the Zurich Premiership final.

That completed a momentous double triumph for Lawrence Dallaglio and company after a thrilling Heineken Cup final victory over Toulouse.

Clement Poitrenaud and Rob Howley will never forget it, the former's error gifting the latter the winning try.

The year ended with Leicester leading the Premiership and threatening to regain their former dominance, but with Wasps hard on their heels.

It was not just in England that standards and intensity rose.

The most competitive Celtic League to date witnessed a thrilling climax with Llanelli Scarlets pipping Ulster to the title on the final weekend.

And as the year draws to a close, much attention is already focused on next summer's Lions tour to New Zealand.

Before that, the excitement and drama of the Six Nations beckons once again.

Who knows, Jonny might be ready to don the white jersey again by then.

England 19-21 Australia match reaction

Wasps captain Lawrence Dallaglio on European glory



Highlights of 2004


England 19-21 Australia
27 Nov 04 |  Internationals
Wales 25-26 New Zealand
20 Nov 04 |  Internationals
England 32-16 South Africa
20 Nov 04 |  Internationals
Ireland 17-12 South Africa
13 Nov 04 |  Internationals
Woodward quits England
03 Sep 04 |  Internationals
Dallaglio ends Test career
31 Aug 04 |  Internationals
SA 23-19 Australia
21 Aug 04 |  Internationals
Australia 51-15 England
26 Jun 04 |  Internationals
Wasps 27-20 Toulouse
23 May 04 |  European Club
Scarlet win galvanises year
14 May 04 |  Welsh
Ireland 37-16 Scotland
27 Mar 04 |  Internationals
England 13-19 Ireland
06 Mar 04 |  Internationals
Johnson quits England
17 Jan 04 |  Internationals

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