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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Back-To-Back World Cup Finals For England

Back-To-Back World Cup Finals For England

Last February saw Ireland thrash England 43-13 in an historic Six Nations clash at Croke Park. Roll on eight months and while Ireland faltered in the pool stages, Brian Ashton’s England side are now planning for a World Cup final. Who would have thought it?

WORLD CUP SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, October 13

FRANCE 9 ENGLAND 14, Stade de France, Saint-Denis (Att: 80,000)

Scorers: France: Pens: Lionel Beauxis 3
England: Try: Josh Lewsey; Pens: Jonny Wilkinson 2; Drop: Jonny Wilkinson

Pride has been well and truly restored in English rugby after wins over a heavily fancied Australian outfit and tournament hosts France.

The defending champions, with nerveless out-half Jonny Wilkinson once again their scoring hero, are now on the verge of collecting the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time in four years.

That was quite unthinkable a few months ago when England finished third in the Six Nations and then suffered two heavy tour defeats to South Africa, albeit with a depleted squad.

The irony of ironies now is that – after those summer defeats (58-10 and 55-22) and last month’s 36-0 World Cup record loss to South Africa – the Springboks are the only team left standing in England’s way.

Saturday’s semi-final, although lacking in quality, was yet another drama-filled encounter at France 2007 which had the 80,000 spectators present on the edge of their seats and the millions watching around the globe enthralled.

France, conquerors of long-time tournament favourites New Zealand, made a shocking start as just 82 seconds into the tie, England crossed for the game’s one and only try.

A perfectly-placed box kick from scrum half Andy Gomarsall had French full-back Damien Traille in all sorts of trouble near the right touchline, he dithered and slipped and the onrushing Josh Lewsey claimed the ball to dive over the whitewash.

Wilkinson missed the difficult conversion to the left and France gradually settled.

Their 21-year-old out-half Lionel Beauxis made it 5-3 after a ruck infringement from the English, and a binding offence at a scrum from Andrew Sheridan allowed France to edge into a 6-5 lead.

With scoring chances at a premium and both packs having their spells of dominance, 6-5 is how it stayed up to half-time with Beauxis missing three drop goal attempts from distance and Wilkinson off target with a drop goal shot at the other end.

Four minutes after the break, Beauxis strengthened France’s lead with a well-struck penalty but that proved to be the hosts’ final score of the game and the tournament.

Wilkinson quickly replied as after a French offside, which came as England launched their first concerted attack of the half, he landed his 50th World Cup penalty for a 9-8 score-line.

With an injury to experienced lock Fabien Pelous forcing France to bring on cult hero Sebastien Chabal in the first half, les Bleus’ replacements were not allowed to have the same impact as they did against New Zealand. A suffocating English defence saw to that.

Wilkinson watched a right-footed drop goal shot ping back off a post and England stepped up their game as full-back Jason Robinson, who hardly put a foot wrong under the high ball, flashed past four defenders.

But continuity was something both sides struggled for and a ruck infringement from English skipper Phil Vickery halted their progress up the field.

France bounced back and almost worked winger Vincent Clerc over for a try on the right but he was brought to ground by a superb tap tackle from replacement flanker Joe Worsley and a leg-pumping Chabal was also halted five metres from the try line.

The ‘championship’ minutes came with France still desperately holding onto their 9-8 lead and you got the sense that they had played their ‘final’ against the All Blacks last week when England began to find field position.

After a wayward drop goal attempt from replacement Toby Flood, England quickly reclaimed possession and a high tackle from Dimitri Szarzewski on Robinson gave Wilkinson a 75th-minute penalty chance.

He duly obliged and just three minutes later, he brought back memories of 2003 when he slotted an excellent drop goal from just inside the French ten-metre line to edge England 14-9 ahead.

France threw the kitchen sink at the men in white for the final two minutes but all their hearts were willing, the home side’s bodies were not. Having kicked far too much possession away over the first hour, France simply could not make a comeback and there was no evidence of their ball in hand brilliance.

England held on to book their place in successive finals and keep on track to becoming the first team to ever retain the Webb Ellis Cup.

For France, it was just another chapter in their book of World Cup woes – they were runners-up in 1987 and 1999 and beaten semi-finalists in 1995, 2003 and now 2007.

Hailing his side’s spirit afterwards, England coach Brian Ashton said: “There are some bright lads out there. They have been through the mill in this tournament and before. You can’t buy experience like that¬†– and these guys will not give up.

“You talk about the British bulldog spirit – and it is here in spades in this group. We knew it was going to be tough (against France) but we did think we had the side to beat France.

“We didn’t get it right at times in the first half. But once we started playing smarter in the second half in achieving field position, we knew eventually we would get in sight of their posts and managed to pop goals over.”