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Thousands Welcome Home England's Championship Rugby Team - 2003-11-25

England's world champion rugby team has returned home from Australia to an ecstatic welcome. An estimated 8,000 fans showed up at Heathrow airport in the early hours of the morning in London to welcome home the victorious English World Cup rugby team. They cheered and sang the rugby fans' anthem.

The team had captured the hearts of their fellow countrymen on Saturday when they defeated Australia 20-17 in the final Rugby Union Championship match in Sydney.

Long maligned for finishing second best on the world sporting stage, England now celebrates its biggest sports victory since it captured the World Cup in soccer in 1966.

Speaking after the overnight flight, coach Clive Woodward said it felt great to be back home. "The reception was unbelievable," he said. "We heard there was going to be a lot of people but it was just fantastic. [I am] extremely proud to be English and very happy to be home. And just a big thank you to all those people who got up so early. I have never seen anything like it."

Authorities at Heathrow say it is the largest welcoming crowd ever seen at London's biggest airport.

The star of the game, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who kicked the winning drop goal with just 26 seconds left in overtime, said the feeling of being back home was overwhelming.

"Seeing that kind of support is hugely humbling and massively uplifting," Wilkinson said. "The guys really do appreciate that more than they can put into words. But it is interesting being back. I am a little bit more wary of what I am saying now than I was before. And I am keen to get on with life now we are back, but not keen to forget and lose the memories I have right now."

But for the English, celebrations are far from over. Officials are considering holding a victory parade through the streets of London next week, if the city can handle the enormous security problem this would present.