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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 September, 2003, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
Perfect send-off for England
By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport at Twickenham

Ben Cohen
England got what they wanted at Twickenham on Saturday in a most comprehensive manner.

Firstly, a timely, morale-boosting 45-14 victory over France to lift their already sky-high confidence a tad higher.

That in turn produced a rousing send-off from their faithful followers who flaunted their fashion with a sea of white around the stadium.

Then, the boys were back in town - Johnson, Wilkinson, Hill and Back. Like some big-time law practice they solicited England through a less than exacting final trial.

It was a trial for Martin Corry, Iain Balshaw and Stuart Abbott in the starting line-up, Paul Grayson and Lewis Moody from the bench while Mike Catt had his in absentia.

The other old boys back in action were the pop group UB40 who gave England's World Cup song a right old reggae rattling.

None of those in front of Woodward's court did themselves an injustice.

Balshaw was busy throughout the game, scored a try within nine seconds of the restart, and showed a propensity for work which he had not displayed for a while.

While Johnson, Back and Hill looked a little ring rusty and took a little time to get into the game, Wilkinson was his majestic self.

It was as if rugby's newest MBE had never been away as he stretched his points-scoring record to 704.

Jonny Wilkinson
The majestic Wilkinson stretched his points-scoring record to 704
He stroked over four penalties and converted three of England's five tries before he and Johnson were pulled off after only a minute of the second half.

At times, though, the game resembled Sevens, but England still had to make the big hits to stop the French who missed a bucket-load of scoring chance.

In truth, England's cover defence was simply awesome with two-try hero and man of the match Ben Cohen, Back and Josh Lewsey all stopping certain tries.

The game as contest was already decided by the break with England holding a 33-3 advantage thanks to the late Cohen tries and another by Jason Robinson.

Balshaw's try right after the interval gave the impression that the floodgates really would open.

It never happened as France refused to lie down on the Twickenham turf and Aurelien Rougerie even managed a deserved try right at the death.

With the warm-up games now over, the focus changes to Georgia in the Subiaco Oval on 12 October, though the real competition begins against South Africa six days later.

The next time Saturday's protagonists could conceivably square up is at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney in the second World Cup semi-final on 17 November.

Woodward will know it will not be so easy should the rematch materialise.




SEE ALSO
King to miss World Cup
04 Sep 03  |  Internationals
Cohen targets revenge
03 Sep 03  |  Internationals
England name strong side
03 Sep 03  |  Internationals
France reshuffle Test side
02 Sep 03  |  Internationals
England axe eight players
01 Sep 03  |  Internationals


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