Man Behind the Match: Richard Hill and the 2002 November test against Australia

England celebrate with the Cook Cup after victory over AustraliaEngland victories over the Southern Hemisphere giants are cherished as rare happenings these days but a decade ago they came along as frequently as London buses.
The Red Rose was blooming under Clive Woodward and Martin Johnson. A team building towards the crescendo of the 2003 World Cup triumph had managed to hold off the All Blacks 31-28 in the first of their 2002 autumn internationals and now bid to record a first ever hat-trick of victories over Australia, who were then the holders of the Webb Ellis Trophy.
Twickenham was a fearsome fortress…16 straight Test match wins at their South-west London citadel meant that even dogs of war such as George Gregan and George Smith ventured in hope rather than expectation. The Wallabies’ shock defeat in Dublin the previous weekend rubbed psychological salt into wounds opened up by England on the Australians’ previous two visits to TW2.
This was an England which had an awesome strength in depth. Woodward opted to replace Danny Grewcock with the emerging Ben Kay, the mesmeric talent of James Simpson-Daniel – sadly to be blighted by injuries – prepared for his second Test outing and the selection that really sent a message that this was a squad full of talent was the dropping of an icon – Lawrence Dallaglio – on the brink of his 50th cap. There was no room for sentiment in the quest for world domination.
England left Dallaglio on the bench, Neil Back (who had been left out against New Zealand) returned and Richard Hill, who played so many Tests at blindside was switched from No.7 to No.8 instead of Dallaglio. Lewis Moody retained his place after a try-scoring display against the All Blacks.
Lewis Moody impressed to keep Lawrence Dallaglio on the bench
“It was a tough decision for Clive at the time,” recalls Moody. “I had disrupted the Back-Dallaglio-Hill trinity and Lawrence had a quiet game by his high standards against the All Blacks. He stuck with me at six, brought Backy in and moved Hilly to eight. I had no doubts about Hilly in that position. He was such a good player. He was not the ‘big bash’ character that Lawrence was. He just went about his business.

“It gave me a great confidence boost to be kept in the side. It was a huge series for us.”
Kay adds: “Clive did this type of thing on a couple of occasions. It was all part of his plan to keep everyone on their toes. He felt Moodos needed some more game time against top international opposition.
“The important thing was that Clive knew his World Cup squad even then, bar a few names.”
Australia quickly disabused any notions of complacency in the crowd with a furious assault on the England line. Green and gold full-back Matt Burke missed an early penalty after Johnson was caught offside in a desperate defensive effort after Will Greenwood was turned over in his own 22.
England composed themselves and Hill, commonly known as a forager in the confined spaces of the breakdown rather than an attacker, found himself in isolation on the right wing. Greenwood had the vision to spot him and tried to make amends by arrowing a kick into the broad acres ahead of the No.8. Alas the ball drifted away from his grasp.
No matter, the home side took the lead after 10 minutes when Hill caught the ball at the tail of a lineout on the Aussie 22. Greenwood made a half-break and the ball was quickly transferred to Simpson-Daniel, whose sniping run drew the cover defence and allowed Ben Cohen to score in the corner. Jonny Wilkinson’s conversion had its usual pinpoint accuracy.
Burke responded with two penalties in quick succession but Wilkinson slotted from halfway to steady the England ship as only he could.
Moody adds: “Jonny always wanted to kick. Jonny and Hilly were very similar, both quiet individuals with a quirky sense of humour.”
This England had a beguiling mix of personalities. Another quiet man with innate gifts, Jason Robinson, dazzled in broken play, almost sneaking through on an outside break in the Aussie 22,  but the Wallabies, although trailing on the scoreboard, were in no way inferior in terms of possession. This was a real contest.
Into the last 10 minutes of the half England attacked with renewed vigour. Matt Dawson made a lung-bursting break up the middle. In the shadow of the posts second row Dan Vickerman took out Moody as the Leicester man tried to clear a ruck. There were screams for a yellow card from England fans, but not a flicker from referee Paul Honiss. Wilkinson knocked over the kick with little fuss and when he followed up with another five minutes later, after Australia transgressed trying to shift Hill from controlling a breakdown, all was going to Woodward’s plan.
England were in command, but like the All Blacks clash the week before they let a dominant situation slip out of their control. Never give any Australian side in any sport a sniff or they will make you pay. In a disturbing 10 minutes for England supporters either side of half-time Australia turned a 16-6 deficit into a 16-28 advantage. Gregan rejected a relatively simple shot at a penalty and went for a scrum. It was the last play of the half. Quick ball was swept out to Elton Flatley, Wilkinson slipped attempting to get to him and this opened up a clear passage for the Queensland Reds playmaker to stroll to the posts for his first international try. Burke converted to make it 16-13 to England at the break.
Another setback for England arrived at the start of the second period. Hill picked up a nasty gash on his forehead and was forced to go off.  Dallaglio trotted on to replace him and notch cap No.50.
Moody adds: “Lawrence was a very good player, Hilly’s absence was a blow but when you have someone of that quality to take his place it didn’t disrupt us too much, although a very important aspect is that no matter how good the replacement is it takes time to get attuned to the match when you come on.”
The facts of the match scream that England DID suffer while Hill was being stitched up, two tries conceded in the space of five minutes before the warrior returned.
Wendall Sailor going over for his first international try after switching code
First, Smith’s chip-and-chase set up field position deep in the England half and Stephen Larkham drifted across the field in his bewitching fashion and floated a superb pass over to former rugby league star Wendell Sailor. Cohen was wrong-footed by Sailor cutting inside and the man who had scored for the Kangaroos at Twickenham in the 13-a-side World Cup two years before recorded his first international try in the other code. Burke failed to slot the tough conversion.

England mounted a swift counter and were pushing the Aussies towards submission when, with no Hill around to marshal the breakdown, the ball squirted left from a ruck. The quick-witted Flatley picked up and set off on an excursion upfield. No-one in the stadium or watching on TV could have expected what happened next. Robinson cruised across to cut him off but Flatley surged and even the jet-shoed Sale man could not reel him in. ‘Billy Whizz’ had been out-gunned in a foot race. As a message of intent it was pretty impressive.
“It was one of those games when things just seemed to be going against us,” Kay reflects. “Honiss played a load of advantages that did not go on for very long and that cost us dear and Jonny, who was the best defensive 10 in the world, slipped for the first Flatley try.”
Burke augmented his conversion with a penalty after Mike Tindall was pinged for a late tackle and England were floundering at 16-28 down.
“It was incredibly tense,” Moody admits. “To go behind in the manner we did created an anxiousness. You could feel it, but we still had the confidence that we could beat anyone. I never felt that we wouldn’t win it.”

Richard Hill
Richard Hill

Ever a man for a crisis, Hill returned and in a neat irony this most unassuming of players wore a shirt with no number on the back, his original pristine white jersey having gathered a stream of blood.
“Hilly was just a consummate professional – one of the most reliable players on the team,” says Kay.
“It wasn’t panic, but I remember thinking at that stage that there were a lot of Australians in Twickenham that day. It was very noisy!”
Wilkinson and Burke traded a penalty apiece and then there was the reassuring sight for English eyes of Wilkinson lining up two more kicks. This match was turning into a belter, it was 25-31 with 15 minutes to go.
All the time there was Hill, an inspirational, bandaged figure roaming around, more often than not in the right place at the fight time. So it was that Hill set in train the crucial, match-winning moment. There appeared little danger but Hill spotted Robinson lurking behind him on the blindside, he drew his man and executed a perfect offload. Robinson surged towards the 22, Tindall took the ball on, the crowd rose to their feet. This was the moment for England to strike, but they needed composure, and it came from their most inexperienced player.
Ben Cohen celebrating his try for England
Simpson-Daniel entered the line, dummied and fed the onrushing Cohen who cut a perfect line to scoot through the Wallaby defence and triumphantly dive over close to the posts before cocking his ear towards the Australian fans gathered in the North Stand.

It summed up the utter self-confidence of the group. Wilkinson’s conversion was never in doubt and England led by a point.
“I remember Hilly’s offload and Benny doing his thing to the crowd,” recalls Moody.
“Hilly played a pivotal role, he was tenacious and he was a lot quicker than people think. That try was a special moment.” Heading into the last 10 minutes, Burke was handed the opportunity to win the game with a 40-metre kick from a central position after the England backs were caught offside following up a Dawson kick but he missed the target by the merest margin.
Despite the near miss, Moody claims England had an unbreakable will to win: “We still thought that if he (Burke) got it we still had the ability to win the game. As it was he missed and we had to hold on.
“That’s when the anxiety kicked in but we had a real mind-set built up over those two or three years when we had real dominance, you knew the guy next to you wanted it as much as you did – that’s why we won that game – it was an incredible feat.”
Hill continued to charge around hitting rucks, tiding up loose ball at lineouts and making tackles deep into injury time.
Kay claimed the final lineout and Johnson’s side saw it out for the narrowest of wins.
For the 24-year-old Moody, finding his way in the Test arena, to achieve such a victory alongside a man he had the highest respect for was a career highlight: “Hilly was someone I always admired. I loved watching him. People talk about him being an ‘unsung hero’ but Hilly was just a great player, not an unsung hero.
“He worked incredibly hard. He was not a big talker, you would never hear him in team meetings but he was one of the most reliable performers in the team.
“If you watched him for 10 minutes he just put in endless cover tackling. I remember in the 2003 World Cup semi-final when Serge Betsen scored France’s try it was Hilly who got back and tried to hold him up. He had that never-say-die attitude.
“A tough, tough player right up there as one of the most tenacious players I have ever seen.”
Things got even better as England thrashed an ill-disciplined South Africa 53-3 to become the first side to beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in consecutive weeks.
“We played some really good rugby but I think that series made us temper it slightly,” adds Kay. “The next year we played more pragmatic rugby.
“But we still realised we could play from anywhere and attack as well as anyone else. One thing was certain, though, Hilly was always there, he just read the game really well and had a phenomenal work-rate. He very rarely had a bad game.”