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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 10:52 GMT
The best World Cup ever

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

The best World Cup ever? It would be hard to argue otherwise.

Only South Africa in 1995 enjoyed the same "one nation" feel, and the added drama of an extra-time final.

Australia's players celebrate winning the World Cup over New Zealand

But Australia 2003 has set a new benchmark for rugby's global extravaganza.

Everyone agrees it is has been the best organised event by a country mile.

The locals in all 10 cities used confirmed Australia's reputation as a sports-mad country, while tens of thousands of visiting fans swelled attendances to over 90% capacity.

On the pitch, defensive organisation, hard-headed experience and tactical nous again ultimately prevailed over running rugby.

Whether that is a good thing is another matter, but Australia and England reinforced their respective reputations in a gripping finale despite the weather.

There may not have been any genuine shocks, the Wallabies' stunning semi-final victory over the All Blacks apart.

But the big guns did not have it easy, despite the quarter-final and last four match-ups emerging as expected beforehand.

Australia, England and New Zealand all survived scares in the pool stages.

Only France sailed through to the semi-finals, and their passage did not do them any favours when they got there.

Fijian speed sensation Rupeni Caucaunibuca
Caucau was reminiscent of Lomu at full force

The tournament unearthed a new star in Fiji wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca, who revived memories of Jonah Lomu at his rampaging best.

He may have only played two matches, but what an impression he left, a thrilling combination of pace and power.

But will we see anything of him until the next World Cup?

The challenge for the International Rugby Board is to come up with a co-ordinated Test programme that gives second-tier nations the chance to close the gap on the big five.

But they must do so while satisfying the wishes of countries like New Zealand to play more often against the likes of England and France. There is no easy solution.

The home nations all had their moments, with England cementing their status as the world's number one team, despite not scaling the peaks of which they are capable.

Wales, against all odds, were one of the teams of the tournament.

Their match against New Zealand was one of the highlights, certainly in terms of pure entertainment.

And the try started by Shane Williams and finished by Stephen Jones against England provided more stirring evidence of a rebirth of traditional Welsh rugby values.

Wales' Shane Williams was among the tournament's surprise stars
Shane Williams made hard work for England and the All Blacks

Ireland came agonisingly close to claiming the Wallabies' scalp in Melbourne, but a repeat effort against France was always going to be asking a lot.

Even Scotland, with their first-half display against Australia, salvaged some pride after an otherwise underwhelming campaign.

The minnows and island nations brought much to the party, Samoa, Japan and Georgia all punching above their respective weight.

And the scenes as Uruguay celebrated beating Georgia in front of 30,000 fans at the Aussie Stadium reminded us the World Cup means different things to different teams.

Everyone will have their own favourite memory, whether it be Brian Lima's thumping hit on Derick Hougaard, or Jonny Wilkinson's drop goals against France.

But the England maestro will certainly be remembered as the face of this tournament, after the remarkable conclusion to Saturday's final.

An epic end to a memorable seven weeks.

Bring on France 2007.





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