Twenty years have pretty much elapsed since a very last-gasp drop goal gave England victory, 20-17, in the Rugby World Cup final, breaking the hearts of host nation, Australia.
Former fly-half Jonny Wilkinson was the hero that day, and that game, alongside numerous others, are featured in a new book by Nottingham-based sports author, James Dixon.
‘World in Union: A History of The Rugby World Cup in XV Matches’ (Meyer & Meyer Sport, August 2023) is exactly what it says on the cover, a potted history of the famed, Webb Ellis trophy in fifteen matches; beginning with the first final, coincidentally, the opening game of the tournament which begins this weekend, New Zealand against France.
“That was partly intentional, but I also think France versus New Zealand is what the World Cup is all about,” began Dixon, currently residing in Southwell with his wife and two children.
“There’s been numerous contests between them and, at the time, New Zealand needed to get the monkey off their back.
“That’s a great rivalry, whereas say the All Backs and the Springboks, there’s a fear factor there but, in this World Cup, I can see this one being both the opening, and the closing game.
“There was also so much happening during the ‘80s, sportingly and politically, and in the late 80s, early 90s, it brought about changes in several sports (rugby with the World Cup, football with the Champions League).
‘World in Union’ for James Dixon, is his second offering in the world of sports literature, it coming two years after the May 2021 publication of what was seemingly a life’s work, that being entitled ‘The Fix: How the first Champions League was won.’
Now, for those that really know their football, the UEFA Champions League is the modern-day version of the old, European Cup competition, replacing it, rebranding, in the early 1990s, for the 1992-93 campaign.
That was to be the season in which Olympique de Marseille defied the odds by not only getting to what was a second successive final, but daring to beat powerhouse, the then mighty AC Milan, 1-0 (Basile Boli header, 44 minutes), in the Olympiastadion, Munich.
That stunning success, the only French club to have done so, was to be quickly overshadowed by the ensuing match-fixing scandal that followed, tarnishing the club, and any success they had during that period – hence the title, ‘The Fix.’
“I actually pitched the idea for ‘World in Union’ around the time my first book was published, Dixon explained, looking back at his Champions League offering.
“That took a good eight years or so to research and write, but it also helped to take away any doubts I had.
“When we had those early lockdowns, it helped me to push it over the line as it became a case of do it, or don’t do it, and it provided myself with both the blueprint, and confidence, to move forward.
“Pitching it though, that was difficult and I’m grateful to Pitch Publishing for taking a big chance on my as I’d never done anything like this before.
“For it (The Fix) to succeed, building a relationship with Jean-Jacques Eydelie (played 1984-2003) was key and I feel that he was unfortunate to have been caught up in all that happened then.
“I was grateful he granted me a lengthy, in-depth interview, and he came across as being balanced, even-handed, and had a calmness about him.
“He provided great insight from someone who was, very much, in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Now though, and with other things in the pipeline moving forward moving forward, you’re always thinking of the next project whilst working on the current, James Dixon’s ‘World in Union’ is timed to perfection for this late summer, early autumn World Cup; it’s certainly a project he’s enjoyed doing.
And then there’s the small matter of a world rugby legend taking point with the foreword, 128 matches/92 caps All Black icon, and former captain, Sean Fitzpatrick (played 1986-1997).
“I could have easily put 40-50 matches in the book, bit, for me, it’s about advancing the narrative of the story itself,” explained Dixon of his thought process.
“It’s about the thrilling games, the big upsets; there’s the four mandatory matches you have to have, the four pillars you have to have, then it’s pick and choose from the rest.
“Once I’d chosen the fifteen matches, the rest was pretty easy; it was a fun process getting to talk to people first-hand, those that have played the game, heroes of mine, the likes of (Sean) Fitzpatrick, (Rory) Underwood, and (Pat) Lamb, to name a few.
“It’s fun, nice, and from a well-being perspective, it helps the creative process; rugby players though, they’re easy to talk to, approachable, and the majority were more than willing to participate.
“(The foreword) I’m completely grateful to Sean Fitzpatrick for doing that, although we did leave it quite close.
“There’s four games in the book which he’s included in, and he gave me so much.
“He’s an incredibly patient and kind human being.”
As for the World Cup itself, James Dixon certainly thought outside the box; “I genuinely think Ireland can win the World Cup, despite them not getting past the quarter-finals (in previous attempts).
“If they weren’t ‘Ireland’ then they’d be favourites.”
Keep up-to-date with James Dixon’s literary journey via his Twitter @JamesDixonBooks and purchase his stunning, new publication ‘World in Union: A History of The Rugby World Cup in XV matches’ via Amazon.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @JamesDixonBooks James Dixon (right) author of World in Union.