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   Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 14:33 GMT
Rugby union: England rule
England coach Clive Woodward's smile says it all
England coach Clive Woodward's smile says it all

Was 2002 the year the tables finally turned on the southern hemisphere nations?

The question is one that will remain unanswered until the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

But after England's impressive wins over the 'big three' and France and Ireland's victories over South Africa and Australia, a European team is surely closer than ever to lifting rugby union's golden trophy for the first time in history.

International rugby
England coach Clive Woodward can be justifiably delighted at the progress his side has made.

In the past 12 months, England have scored 868 points and conceded just 286.

They end the year as the world's number one team and have extended their unbeaten run at Twickenham to 18 matches.

They are also the first European side to defeat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa on consecutive weekends.

In wing James Simpson-Daniel, hooker Steve Thompson and flanker Lewis Moody, England have unearthed players capable of taking them to World Cup glory.

If that is to be achieved, however, Woodward's first job must be to win the Grand Slam - something easier said than done for a side that last enjoyed an unbeaten Six Nations run in 1995.

Had France not pipped them 20-15 in Paris, England would have ended the year without a blemish.

But that is not the Six Nations way.

Domestic rugby
The tournament, which continues to capture the public's imagination, threw up a number of fiery matches - notably France's hard-fought 37-33 victory in Cardiff.

The French wobble was then quickly forgotten as they humbled England and Scotland, before demolishing Ireland 44-5 in Paris.

It capped another remarkable Six Nations year, but for club coaches the season had just begun.

Leicester, bidding for a record fourth domestic league title, also hoped to become the first team to defend the Heineken Cup.

And for Dean Richards' men the campaign went exactly to plan, even if Neil Back's 'hand of god' threatened to mar the Tigers' achievements in the European final against Munster.

In the Parker Pen Shield, Sale managed to claim a tight victory over Pontypridd and London Irish capped a remarkable year by demolishing Northampton in the Powergen Cup final.

Around the world
One month later, the Crusaders became the first team to claim a 100% success rate in the Super 12, setting the tone for New Zealand's Tri-Nations victory in Durban in August.

The result set up a tantalising 'battle of the hemispheres' November international between France and the All Blacks - a game that ironically ended 20-all.

The rugby-loving public will now have to wait another year for the outcome to be decided.

But here on in, all roads lead to Australia.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
 England coach Clive Woodward
"To win was an awesome achievement"
 Leicester director of rugby Dean Richards
"It's an outstanding feeling"
In-depth look back at a wonderful year of sport

Major events

Reviews

Sport in mourning

Funny Old Year

Sports Personality

Have your say
See also:

25 Nov 02 | International
18 Nov 02 | International
11 Nov 02 | International
20 Aug 02 | International
05 Aug 02 | Rugby 7s
26 May 02 | European
25 May 02 | European
28 May 02 | International
Links to more Sports Reviews stories are at the foot of the page.


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