Really nice to see Jason Robinson running out for his 50th cap - something in doubt a few weeks ago, when he limped off with his hamstring injury.
The French knocked on at the kickoff, and England's scrum was strong - getting a free kick. Andy Gomarsall's kick to the corner was dithered over by Damien Traille, and Josh Lewsey [right] snuck up behind him and mugged him for the ball - crashing over the line in the corner for the fastest try in World Cup semifinal history. What a fantastic start!
France were on the counter-attack after 7 minutes, when Nick Easter was pinged at the ruck which formed after a 55m drop goal attempt. Lionel Beauxis added the extras.
Mark Regan made a great chargedown in the 10th minute, the French defence panicked and kicked it over the deadball line, to give England an attacking scrum 5. The forwards rumbled towards the line, but were pushed back 10 meters. With England back on the attack, Sackey was penalised for holding on, giving France a chance of a lineout on the half way line.
At 15 minutes, France were on the attack again, and Beauxis ran down the wing, but he was given a forward pass, so the ref called them back for another scrum. Easter made a great break from the back of the scrum, but Serge Betsen [left] put a huge hit on Martin Corry and he lost it forward. The next scrum collapsed, and France had a chance at the posts from just inside the half way line. Lionel Beauxis struck it well, to take the hosts up by one point, 5-6.
At 21 minutes, France kicked deep into English territory and out the touchline, but the lineout held firm. France got another lineout at the other side of the pitch, with old warhorse Fabien Pelous [right] taking it at the back. England's defence was good, with Jonny Wilkinson felling the big lock in the tackle. He got up initially, but had to go off in the 24th minutes, replaced by Sebastien Chabal. Chabal's not really as good a second row as he is back row, so the French scrum could suffer.
Jonny missed a drop goal attempt in the 26th minute, just fading to one side before it reached the posts. A couple of minutes later, England were on the attack and Betsen came in from the side at a ruck. It was a long shot from inside his own half, but Wilkinson stepped up to take the penalty. It fell just wide.
Chabal took a knock tackling Phil Vickery [left], but eventually got up and lumbered back to the scrum. The French supporters breathed a sigh of relief. Shortly after, Les Bleus had an attacking lineout which was won, but Lewis Moody turned it over and the lines were cleared a few metres back down the pitch. This time the lineout was far too long, and it was snatched by Mike Catt and taken back into the French half.
In the 33rd minute, Serge Betsen stole an English lineout in our half, eventually it went back to Jason Robinson who cleared it to safety.
Catt made a terrible pass back to Matthew Tait, who just scrambled to collect the ball and cover it safely. With a minute to go before half time, Dan Hipkiss came on for a limping Josh Lewsey, a shame to see him bow out injured. The ref blew for half time, and we could all catch our breath again for a while.
"Mad Bernie" decided to ring the changes in the 51st minute, bringing on Dimitri Szarzewski and Frédéric Michalak [left]. They immediately made an impact, and chipped ahead for a chance - but England managed to chip it over the dead ball line. France had a 5m scrum, the short side wasn't going anywhere, and passed it wide across the pitch. Michalak's attempt at a drop goal was nowhere near, perhaps Beauxis would have taken the points?
Elissalde was mugged for the ball at a ruck, in the 54th minute, with some excellent tackling from England. Both sides still looked rather cautious, however. Lots of ping-pong. At 58 minutes, England were steaming up the middle, and Jonny tried another drop goal - it hit the post and bounced off, but it was kicked back to Jason Robinson who scythed through the French defence. It was going so well, until we gave away another penalty.
Simon Shaw took Wilkinson's restart kick and powered off into the French half, then Lewis Moody charged down the middle. A few fumbles later, then France had a decent scrum, but then Easter was pinged again for rucking in from the side. Beauxis took the points and the hosts were 5-9 up. England needed to pull themselves together and stop the silly penalties.
In the 45th minute, Englahd made a superb intercept from Lewis Moody, who passed it off to Dan Hipkiss and the backs got themselves up to within 5m. The French gave away a penalty and it was time for Jonny to take some much-needed points. Fans in white heaved a sigh of relief, to take them back to within a point, 8-9.
The French inched their way back into English territory, winning a lineout and driving up the pitch. The forwards rumbled, but Matt Stevens [right] turned over the ball when it went to the backs. A minute later, Stevens made a huge hit on Chabal. He was making a nuisance of himself as far as France were concerned.
Simon Shaw had a good run into French territory, but it was turned over and the French gained vital yards. George Chuter was brought on just as France got the lineout. Their forwards rumbled on, and then Michalak chipped ahead but Matthew Tait was just in the right place to clean up under the England posts.
At 67 minutes, English hearts were in mouths when Vincent Clerc broke away, but Joe Worsley [right, in action against the USA] managed a fantastic fingertip tap tackle, then the English defence closed in around Chabal who had taken the pass. He was held up at 5m, but England knocked on - Scrum V to France. They botched it, and England won a vital penalty when France held on in the ruck. Jonny cleared.
Time to wheel on Lol - Dallaglio coming on for Nick Easter. Gomarsall was down for a moment after colliding with the touch judge. After the lineout, Jonny Wilkinson seemed to go down injured, along with Michalak. They were dropping like flies! They both got back up and play continued.
France had a lineout on the half way line, England needed to compete. The forwards drove, but they lost it forward and it came back on the English side. Toby Flood was impatient and tried for a drop goal in the 73rd minute. Buy England were still in the French half after the restart. Wilkinson was lined up for a drop goal again, when Jason Robinson was taken out with a high tackle by Szarzewski - Wilkinson's boot was on song at last - England went ahead 11-9.
France were counter-attacking when Paul Sackey and Toby Flood took their man out into touch - Chabal used an elbow and gave away a penalty. The catch and drive lineout rumbled up the pitch, with Martin Corry right in the middle of the maul. England were hanging onto possession for grim death, ticking down the clock. Wilkinson hovered in the pocket and popped over a sweet drop goal to take them 14-9 ahead.
At the restart, France were looking dangerous, pushing up inside English territory. But the French knocked on and England went for the scrum. With one minute to go from a World Cup Final. What a game! Then France had a lineout on the half way, all England had to do was hang on. Attack from Les Bleus, defence from Les Blancs. The clock went red. Hearts pounded. The English defence just would not crack. France knocked on...
England are in the FINAL!!!