10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Five penalties and three drop goals from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson sends England into next weekends RWC final against Australia. The Sweet Chariot defeated France 24-7 in a rain swept Stadium Australia in conditions that England adapted to and France simply did not. Those conditions probably suited Clive Woodward's side much better than the French because with Wilkinson in the number 10 jersey they had the player who could control the game if he were given any decent type of possession. And with Martin Johnson leading the charge the England pack delivered big-time.
In contrast, France never managed to express themselves as they had done before in this competition. The bar-of-soap ball meant they were never able to get any of their famous flowing moves going and Frederic Michalak, outstanding against the Irish, had something of a mare' this time around. He missed two relatively easy first half penalties and cut a desolate figure when he left the field at the start of the final quarter replaced by Gerald Merceron. By then it was game over as England controlled pretty much as they pleased. Perhaps the real indicator was in the 59th minute when the French were awarded a penalty around the half-way mark. They asked a clearly unenthusiastic Michalak to have a go at the posts when a decent touch-find seemed the obvious ploy. The out-half's effort drifted left and wide. Quelle surprise !
But the man who dominated this semi-final was the Newcastle Falcon, Wilkinson.
He dropped goals with his right and left foot, he kicked five penalties, he kicked long to pin the French in their half, he was on hand to collect when the French kicked into England's half and he never once shirked a tackle.
The best in the world ? By a country mile.
For their part France will be bitterly disappointed that they never managed to produce the type of football they are capable of. The conditions didn't suit, of that there is no doubt nor were they helped by Michalak's kicking lapses. Or when Serge Betsen was yellow-carded - harshly in most people's opinion - in the second half. They probably knocked-on more ball in this game than they've done in an eon but as Clive Wodward pointed out afterwards the conditions affect both sides.
We came here to win this. We didn't come to be second. You know it rains in France as well. You have to play the conditions. I don't think it's a question of adapting, more a case of common sense really. We did it pretty well. The pack was magnificent. I'm confident we can beat anyone, anywhere in any conditions. It's going to be a massive week down here.
And so, the two sides who all along were having doubt poured on them are through to the final while the sides who were supposed to contest the decider, France and New Zealand, will face each other to determine 3rd and 4th places.