Winning the World Cup was the climax of a six-year odyssey that Lawrence Dallaglio insists was driven by obsession and forged on the anvil of adversity.
The most cherished moment in the country’s rugby history was delivered on November 22, 2003, but for Dallaglio that famous night in the Telstra Stadium was merely the culmination of a series of events that defined the England team revered above all others.
For three successive years – 1999, 2000 and 2001 – Five and Six Nations grand slam aspirations were sabotaged by Celtic adversaries refusing to accept their roles in the English narrative.
Heartbreak was more acutely felt on the global stage in 1999 when South Africa fly-half Jannie de Beer kicked Clive Woodward’s team into submission in a painful 44-21 World Cup quarter-final defeat.
Such disappointments helped shape the achievements to come, however, by bonding a squad motivated by an all-consuming drive to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
“Rugby’s a funny sport – it’s not just your game, it’s your life,” said England 2015 ambassador Dallaglio.
“When you play it to the level we did, you become obsessed with winning. We’d dedicated our lives to winning the World Cup – to the point of obsession.
“As a result of that, every other part of your life becomes collateral damage.
“We were obsessed and lived in and out of each other’s lives for the best part of six years. Not just on the field, but off the field as well.
“We went through an enormous amount and suffered some inglorious defeats – two or three too many for my liking.
“Most of the team had been through the disappointment of 1999 and everything that went with that emotionally.
“We had some tough times and when you go through that and come out the other side, you become very strong as a group. We were very close.
“Now you don’t have to see much of each other – you just share a look. That’s all you need when you’ve been through everything that we have.
“Just how good that team was is for other people to judge,” added Dallaglio.
“But in 50-100 years’ time when people look back and talk about the best players ever to have played the sport, many members of that team will be mentioned.”