Only seconds of extra-time were left when Wilkinson supplied one of rugby's iconic images, his weaker right foot striking the decisive drop-goal that finally exhausted Australia's defiance.
By their own admission England, at the time the world's strongest team and favourites to topple the Wallabies, should already have been parading the Webb Ellis Trophy around the Telstra Stadium in triumph.
Instead, a nerve-shredding climax to the Sydney final concluded with Wilkinson attempting the most pressurised of kicks that even he viewed as the final throw of the dice.
"I'd had a couple of goes before which were very much pot shots, having a dig almost," the England 2015 ambassador told Press Association Sport.
"But for this one I was thinking that because of where the guys had put me, I can't miss....this must go over. I almost remember feeling like 'the others drifted wide but this one will go over'.
"I knew I'd hit it in such a way that it wasn't going to be the most powerful kick, but it was going to be accurate. I knew from fairly early on it was going over.
"What surprised me was I actually got lost in that moment, I didn't know where I was. I remember half celebrating, but not really celebrating.
"It felt like a surreal, dream-like situation. I had to ask 'is this really happening?' and that was my facial expression.
"Then there was the realisation that there was still time left and I really wasn't up for a third game-tying penalty from them before the end.
"There was the panic to get back and the urgency to get the ball off the field and finish the damn thing."
Speak to the players who produced English rugby's most cherished moment and they will offer contrasting views on whether the drop-goal was a well-rehearsed routine flawlessly executed, or an example of inspired improvisation.
It began with Lewis Moody receiving the ball at the back of a line-out and Mike Catt charging at Australia's defence.
Matt Dawson gained a precious 15 yards by darting through a gap in the wall of gold shirts but became trapped at the bottom of a ruck, so Martin Johnson carried to enable his scrum-half to take up position.
Using skill and composure England had constructed the perfect platform for Wilkinson and when their fly-half received the ball from Dawson, a faultless passage of play reached its dramatic conclusion.
Wilkinson regards the kick as the product of long hours spent preparing for a sequence of events that unfolded when the nation's need was at its most dire.
"We spent years and years with that team working on a framework to manufacture three points when needed," Wilkinson said.
"We demanded that people knew their roles and also everyone else's roles so that it was as professional and ruthless a manoeuvre as it could possibly be.
"There was no great communication, but under the greatest pressure everybody carried out their roles impeccably.
"It always seemed strange to me that the World Cup played itself out like it did.
"Not only did we play the final against the host team, but also that it went down to the very last seconds of extra-time and a drop-goal.
"All that hard work we did over the years we were obliged to put into practice in one passage of play. The time when we got it exactly right was the time when we needed it most.
"That made it feel like a really special moment when many destinies came together at one point. It was our time."
None of the authors of England's only World Cup triumph will confess to having watched a replay of the final, Wilkinson among them.
"I've tried to preserve the quality of the memories I have which are wrapped up in the feel, the senses, the smell, noises and atmosphere," he said.
"I'd rather keep it there and then in that first-person experience than watch it back, which can taint the memory.
"I want to keep it exactly as I remember it, which was one hell of an experience."
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