England 14 France 9
It was a game to tell your grandchildren
about. A game so close and tense and taut
that it almost went beyond enjoyment. One
man turned it England's way. No prizes for
guessing the name. Jonny Wilkinson kicked
England into another World Cup final. Four
years ago he saw off France with his boot
and last night in a sensational rugby match
he kicked England into a second successive
England were heroes to a man because for
long periods of this match they had to
defend and dig themselves out of their own
territory. But this is a team with bags of
character and when it mattered, when it
really, really mattered they forged towards
the French line for Wilkinson to deliver two
decisive knockout blows.
This England story has now gone beyond
fairytale and turned into the stuff of
legend. Four weeks ago they were nowhere,
dishevelled disorganised and helpless, yet
this Saturday they can do what no country
has ever done and that is hang on to the
Webb Ellis trophy. Magnificent.
England got off to the most sensational of
starts when a delightful chip by Andy
Gomarsall forced Damien Traille into a
howler. It was a classic case of a man
caught out because he was accustomed to the
position in which he was selected. Traille
was slow to read the flight of the ball,
slow to get to the bounce of it and slow to
react when that bounce worked beautifully
for England and popped up into the arms of
And there was another great opportunity for
England when Mark Regan, of all people,
charged down a lazy clearance kick from
David Marty to force a five-metre scrum.
England's front five started where they left
off from the quarter-final in Marseille and
drove and drove and gradually began to roll
France backwards, only for Nick Easter to
lose control at the base of the scrum and
for France to escape downfield.
The issue for England, after the first 10
minutes, was those opening exchanges were by
far their finest. Wilkinson went close with
a long-range penalty and a speculative drop
goal but the rest of the first half was a
sustained period of French territorial
It was a pretty mixed effort, to be honest,
from France. There were passages of
wonderful handling with Yannick Jauzion the
rock around which the attacks were built and
there were fine examples of tactical kicking
from Lionel Beauxis. But in between,
especially during the last 10 minutes of the
half, were passages when France looked
lethargic and wasteful.
It didn't help that they lost Fabien Pelous
midway through the half. Sebastien Chabal
added his customary aggression but Chabal is
primarily a back-row forward and France
missed Pelous's intensity and hard work.
With Pelous on board and with the first-up
tackling of Serge Betsen, France forced
English errors at the line-out and
elsewhere. A Martin Corry knock on
eventually set up a successful penalty
chance from Beauxis and another well struck
shot enabled France to go in 6-5 ahead at
That lead was extended when Beauxis added
his third penalty after a very dubious
refereeing decision by Jonathan Kaplan.
Beauxis had made a fine break and was halted
by Wilkinson when Easter was adjudged to
have entered the ruck from the side. It did
not appear that a ruck had formed and Easter
was well within his rights to attack the
ball as he did.
England responded well. Mathew Tait who had
made a couple of half breaks earlier in the
match was freed up wide on the right.
Jauzion got back to tackle Tait but gave
away the penalty in the process and
Wilkinson banged over the kick to bring
England back to within a point of France.
The match then entered its decisive period.
Freddie Michalak, the architect of victories
over Ireland and New Zealand earlier in the
tournament, replaced Beauxis. A clever kick
from Jean-Baptiste Elissalde set up an
attacking scrum and when that was defended
well Elissalde hurled out a huge reverse
pass which Cedric Heymans gathered to set up
the position from which Michalak fired a
horrible, floppy drop kick.
It was that kind of match, a Test full of
unforced errors and players unable or
fearful of grasping the opportunity to turn
There were periods towards the end of the
game when both sides kicked poorly, each
intent on banging the ball as far away from
their own 22 as possible.
Yet there was no escaping the tension which
built in the most excruciating manner.
Wilkinson tried a snap drop goal which
banged against the left hand post and back
into play and then Jason Robinson ran
through four French would-be defenders
before Jauzion nailed him with a last ditch
As the game lost its shape as players
cascaded off the bench to replace spent or
injured bodies, the spectacle became even
more gladiatorial. Both sides knew that the
next mistake could be the error that cost
their country a place in the World Cup
final. Even the spectators were cowed into
silence for large chunks of the match as if
an intervention of the wrong sort might
break the concentration on the field. France
commanded the territory but England tended
to force the turnover when that pressure
threatened to smash their World Cup dream to
Until 73 minutes and 52 seconds. That was
the amount of time which had elapsed when
Dimitri Szarzewski tackled Robinson high and
Wilkinson coolly knocked over the penalty.
And it was Wilkinson again who sent his
country into the final when he smacked over
a drop goal with his left foot. Four years
ago Wilkinson's right foot created history.
Yesterday it was his left which clinched the
match. Remarkable man, remarkable game,
First half: 5-0 Lewsey try, 5-3 Beauxis pen,
5-6 Beauxis pen.
Second half: 5-9 Beauxis pen, 8-9 Wilkinson
pen, 11-9 Wilkinson pen, 14-9 Wilkinson d-g.
England: J Robinson; P Sackey, M Tait, M
Catt, J Lewsey; J Wilkinson, A Gomarsall; A
Sheridan, M Regan, P Vickery (capt), S Shaw,
B Kay, M Corry, L Moody, N Easter.
Replacements: G Chuter (Regan 65), M Stevens
(Vickery 55), L Dallaglio (Easter 69), J
Worsley (Moody 53), P Richards (Gomarsall
70), T Flood (Catt 68), D Hipkiss (Lewsey
France: D Traille; V Clerc, D Marty, Y
Jauzion, C Heymans; L Beauxis, J-B Elissalde;
O Milloud, R Ibanez (capt), P de Villiers, F
Pelous, J Thion, S Betsen, T Dusautoir, J
Replacements: D Szarzewski (Ibanez 50), J-B
Poux (de Villiers 65), S Chabal (Pelous 24),
I Harinordoquy (Betsen), F Michalak (Beauxis
50), C Dominici (Heymans 61).
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa)
PAUL ACKFORD -
Sunday Telegraph | Sunday, 14 October 2007
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