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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 08:31 GMT
England rugby heroes arrive home
Matt Dawson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen show off the World Cup after arriving home

England's victorious Rugby World Cup team received a heroes' welcome from thousands of fans as they returned home from Australia on Tuesday.

The squad landed at London's Heathrow Airport at 0435GMT and were given a rapturous reception when they emerged from their plane 20 minutes later.

Captain Martin Johnson, grasping the William Webb Ellis Trophy, was the first to appear and was greeted with a deafening rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", England's unofficial anthem.

He was closely followed by coach Clive Woodward and fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who secured England's triumph in Saturday's final against Australia by slotting a last-gasp drop goal.

There was a huge roar as the England party were led through passport control and into the arrivals hall by Woodward.

I'm overawed by the support - its hugely humbling and massively uplifting. The guys all appreciate that more than they can put into words
Jonny Wilkinson on England's reception at Heathrow airport

He said: "I'm certainly proud to be English and very glad to be home.

"I'd just like to say a big thank you to all those people who got up so early. I've never seen anything like it - it's just fantastic."

Scrum-half Matt Dawson described the reception as "mindblowing".

Plans are already underway to mark England's triumph, including a reception at Downing Street.

A victory parade in London also looks a certainty, although the Rugby Football Union said it would probably be well into next week before that could take place.

England fans cheer their heroes at Heathrow Airport

England beat Australia 20-17 in a thrilling final thanks to Wilkinson's drop goal with just 26 seconds left of extra-time.

Wilkinson has already been named player of the year by the International Rugby Board but is expected to pick up further honours.

He is favourite to become the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year and has also been made a freeman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne by the city council.

But the 24-year-old Wilkinson told a media conference at the England team's hotel in Surrey: "I want to continue being myself.

"I'm after a bit of peace and quiet. I want to get back now to be with my family, where I feel totally comfortable and totally myself."

At the same media session, Johnson, 33, meanwhile said he would take time to reflect before deciding on his playing future.

"People have been asking me [about retirement] for 18 months," he said. "It's not the time to make that decision now."

Woodward and Johnson have also earned plenty of plaudits for their role in England's World Cup win and there is mounting speculation both will be knighted in the New Year.

The RFU is planning its own celebrations and has organised a match against the New Zealand Barbarians at Twickenham on 20 December.

It will provide an opportunity for supporters to pack HQ, although it is unclear at this stage what sort of team Woodward will parade.

Most of the players will have returned to action long before then. Some may even play for their clubs this weekend.





Links to more Rugby World Cup stories


 

WATCH AND LISTEN
England hooker Steve Thompson
"Walking through Heathrow was breathtaking"


England's Jonny Wilkinson
"I'm looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet"



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