Former Wallaby Elton Flatley has lived in Quade Cooper’s boots with a nerve-jangling kick on full-time with the eyes of a nation on him.
Rewind to the Rugby World Cup final in 2003 at a packed Stadium Australia in Sydney with nearly 83,000 people holding their breath.
A nerveless Flatley immersed himself in his goalkicking routine and banged over a penalty goal to lock the scores at 14-all against England on full-time.
It sent the final into extra time but for a moment everything hovered in a strange limbo.
“Everyone was a bit numb. I got a tap on the backside and thought it was one of the boys,” Flatley said.
“I looked around and it was (England centre) Will Greenwood. There wasn’t too much banter in the final but he was good.”
Greenwood dropped a classic line to acknowledge Flatley’s cool under the greatest pressure.
“Balls as big as a house,” Greenwood nodded and ran off.
Flatley banged over another pressure penalty goal to tie things up at 17-all in extra time but as we all know it was Jonny Wilkinson’s right boot which had the final say. His winning field goal wrote “J Wilkinson” and the 2003 England team into legend.
That so many of us vividly recall the pulsating drama of the 2003 final, and Flatley’s part in it, says it all about how indelible are the greatest moments from the tournament’s history.
Flatley played 38 Tests at centre and flyhalf but that final and banging over kick after kick to help upset the All Blacks in the semi-final are the defining two nights of his decorated career.
Flatley is an avid backer of Australia’s bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
“A World Cup for Australia in 2027 would be great for rugby and the country just like it was in 2003,” Flatley said.
“For the players, the feeling of playing in front of family and friends is very special.
“There was a real focus in 2003 not to make it a Sydney-Brisbane World Cup but a World Cup for the whole of Australia which is what 2027 will also be about.
“In 2003, we played in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. We had our training camps in Coffs Harbour and we had a pre-tournament visit to Arnhem Land that none of the Wallabies of that time will ever forget.
“I grew up on the Gold Coast and some of my great mates were Aboriginal boys but I’d never actually experienced that side of their life, their traditional type of living.
“We had an amazing experience as a team in the Northern Territory. It was as grassroots as you could find.”
Australia is in the box seat to win hosting rights for the 2027 World Cup with a decision expected early next year. A bid to host the tournament in the USA has been tabled for 2027 or 2031 and the longer lead-in time to a potential 2031 staging makes good sense.
COVID-19's financial impact on rugby in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales suggests a 2031 bid for that corner of the northern hemisphere will also likely take shape which might bump an expansionist World Cup to 2035.
Former Wallaby Chris Latham was involved in three World Cups, including his five-try day out against Namibia at Adelaide Oval in 2003.
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For the champion fullback of 78 Tests, the beauty of the World Cup is not just the full stadiums but what it does to turbo-charge less profile areas of the code.
“You never know where the next star is coming from. To me, one of the most important things to come out of a World Cup is what it does to attract more players to club rugby at the development level,” Latham said.
“That’s where that next star is starting.
“The beauty of the World Cup is taking it on the road to all parts of the country."
Australia’s bid to host Rugby World Cup 2027 recently hit a milestone with 50,000 people signing up to back the bid since the launch in May.
Clubs across the country are submitting letters of support which will also be included in Australia’s final bid submission to World Rugby in January.