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The English team arrived in London after beating Australia 20-17 down under to win the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The triumph marked the first time a northern hemisphere nation had been victorious, the previous other five RWC winners were Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
What no one in England could imagine was the spontaneous outpouring of joy that culminated in a parade through London that attracted 750,000 cheering people, the largest attended sporting celebration in its history. The central London crowd surpassed the record set in 1964 when England won the soccer World Cup.
Fans arrived early to find a curbside place to view the arrival of the team, outfitted in gray jackets and red ties. Two double-decker buses – named “Sweet Chariot” – transported the entourage through the London Streets, festooned with the England flag.
The players, by now recognizable names, carried the William Webb Ellis trophy aloft and waved it to the throng of people that clapped in appreciation.
At Lilywhites, the famous sports emporium in Piccadilly, the bottom floor, always reserved for soccer, carried England rugby world cup merchandise, and, seemingly, half of the shirts honored drop-kick hero Jonny Wilkinson.
After the parade, the team visited Buckingham Palace where they were feted by Queen Elizabeth, who posed with them and her corgis.
The fabulous day ended with a stop at 10 Downing Street and an official tribute by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Interviewed the day afterward, Wilkinson delighted the nation by saying that the Queen “reminded me of my Mum.”