The 2003 Rugby World Cup provided lasting memories - none more so than Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal in the final minute of extra time to clinch the World Cup for England against Australia in Sydney by 20-17. England were led on the pitch by the calm judgment and indomitable strength of captain Martin Johnson. Johnson, a towering 6’7” lock forward, played for England for 11 years winning 84 caps, toured three times with the British and Irish Lions and was a stalwart of an outstanding Leicester club side. Johnson led his country in 39 matches, of which 34 were victories.
The structure of rugby union had changed fundamentally in the last decade of the 20th century. In 1995, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) had finally accepted professionalism. It was, ironically, exactly one century after its refusal to permit ‘broken-time’ payments had led in 1895 to rugby’s split and the creation of the professional Northern Union. International rugby union in the 21st century had become a full-time professional sport.
We cheat a little. There is no statue of England’s leader as such - but, since 2010, a massive, 27-foot tall, dramatic sculpture by Gerald Laing, depicting a rugby line-out, has greeted spectators arriving at the plaza outside the South Stand at Twickenham. It is a distinctive landmark. The sculpture was originally created in clay, scanned on to a computer and, in giant form, set in bronze by the foundry. Engraved around the plinth are statements of five core values of the game – teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.