WHAT does it take to win a Rugby World Cup for England?
For Lewis Moody, it meant training sessions so brutal, he was frequently physically sick.
5 Lewis Moody was gripped with nerves before the historic 2003 World Cup final so he paid a cinema to open up and let him watch School of RockCredit: Jamie McPhilimey – The Sun
5 Red Rose legend Lewis Moody says after winning the World Cup aged 24 he wondered how his life could ever top thatCredit: Getty Images – Getty
5 Jack Black starred as guitarist Dewey Finn in the hit comedy School of Rock that helped Englsnd stars Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson relax
It meant mental demons gripping him on the eve of the 2003 final.
And yet when he claimed the line-out ball which teed up Jonny Wilkinson’s famous winning drop-goal, it meant a supreme moment of clarity as years of preparation paid off.
Moody, who joins SunSport as a columnist for the tournament kicking off in Japan tomorrow, experienced the entire gamut of emotions during three World Cups.
First the glory of 2003, then a bloody-minded battle against the odds to reach the 2007 final.
And, finally, the ignominy of skippering a 2011 campaign derailed by off-field issues.
Moody was a flanker nicknamed ‘Crazy Horse’ and ‘Mad Dog’ for his bruising style.
Yet one of his strongest recollections from Clive Woodward’s triumphant trip to Australia was the moment self-doubt struck in his Manly hotel room the night before the final against the host nation.
Moody said: “I remember specifically the nerves the night before.
“It was the first time I reflected on how much it weighed on your mind, when I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘F****** hell, you’re playing in the World Cup final tomorrow.
'WE HAD TO PAY THE PROJECTIONIST'
“Everyone in England will be watching and this is the moment you’ve always waited for’.
“Then little gremlins start creeping into your brain to put you off — ‘You’re going to make a mistake or give away a penalty’. And you’ve spent a lot of time trying to train your mind to repress that.”
Moody employed a trusty method to escape the ‘gremlins’ and went to the cinema with hooker Steve Thompson.
“But the cinema was closed, they told us the projectionist wasn’t there,” said Moody.
“I said, ‘You don’t quite understand the gravity of the situation — whether England win or lose the World Cup could depend on this’.
“So we had to pay the projectionist 500 Aussie dollars, about 150 quid, to watch a film called School of Rock. The two of us in an empty cinema.”
The following night, with the scores tied at 17-17 deep into extra-time, Thompson threw the line-out ball, Moody made a mighty leap to win it — and the gremlins were absent.
“We’d rehearsed scenarios like that for six months,” said Moody, “and we never got tested as much as when we trained together.
“I was just 24 years old and Thommo had only been a hooker for a few years. But there was complete clarity — as soon as the ball went into touch, we knew exactly what would happen next.”
5 England won the World Cup for the only time so far in Australia in 2003Credit: Rota
Seconds later, fly-half Wilkinson — described by Moody as ‘the ultimate team-mate’, driven by a deep dread of letting down his colleagues — landed the winning kick.
Moody said: “The most honest moment I’ve felt on a pitch was when that final whistle blew.
“Just the raw emotion and release of endorphins — Jonny and Will Greenwood dancing like schoolgirls.”
Later, Moody recalls an eerie quiet in the dressing room, a ‘numbness’, the thought that, ‘I was only 24 and how do I ever replicate this?’
Then an inability to get drunk after the final, which he made up for with three rounds of G&Ts for breakfast on Manly beach the next morning.
Moody said: “When we left for Australia, Rory Underwood was still the biggest name in English rugby and he’d retired six years earlier!”
5 2003 hero Lewis Moody is joining SunSport as a columnist for the tournament in Japan this yearCredit: Jamie McPhilimey – The Sun
Yet after returning home, the squad were greeted at Heathrow Airport by tens of thousands, went to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace and paraded London on an open-top bus.
That squad had a reunion dinner in 2013, where Moody recalled: “There were all these training-camp photos.
“They brought back the brutality and intensity of those sessions, the number of times you were sick.”
Moody describes the 2007 campaign as a ‘polar opposite’ to the meticulous preparations of Woodward’s regime.
Brian Ashton had replaced Andy Robinson as head coach eight months before the tournament — and his methods were ill-suited to the squad.
“We were absolutely village in 2007,” admitted Moody.
“Some players planned flights home as they didn’t think we’d get out of the group — which I couldn’t get my head around.
PLAYERS SEIZED CONTROL
“But we reached the final due to the bloody-mindedness of players who refused to accept we were that bad.”
After a 36-0 drubbing by South Africa, the players seized control, England went back to basics, stunned Australia and hosts France to reach the final against the Springboks.
A Mark Cueto ‘try’, disallowed after a tortuous TMO routine, was England’s great missed opportunity in a 15-6 defeat.
But Moody said: “The irony was we had a six-man overload on the right and if we’d gone the other way, we’d have walked it in. In 2003 we’d have probably made the right decision.”
Four years later, Moody captained a squad coached by his revered former Leicester and England skipper Martin Johnson.
But the trip to New Zealand was best remembered for off-field misdemeanours, including a dwarf-tossing night in a Queenstown bar.
Though Moody insists no dwarves were thrown by England players.
He said: “People talk about Jonno as a coach in derogatory terms but I thought he was brilliant.
“Off-field distractions were the total undoing of the team.
“To have captained a campaign remembered like that one in 2011 is tough to live with.
“This time Eddie Jones seems to have decided he can’t trust Ben Te’o to have the team’s best interests at heart, so can’t be a part of it.”
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So from all his experiences at World Cups, what advice would Moody give Jones’ men?
“It’s simple,” he says, “You may never be back on this stage again.
“So embrace it in every possible way, and then you can have no regrets.”