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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 10:51 GMT
England into World Cup final
Jonny Wilkinson slots over another drop goal for England
England 24
Pens: Wilkinson (5)
DGs: Wilkinson (3)
France 7
Try: Betsen
Con: Michalak
England 24-7 France

England booked their place in the World Cup final against Australia with a tense victory over France in appalling conditions in Sydney.

High winds and torrential rain effectively ended all hopes of running rugby between two of the most explosive sides in world rugby.

In the end it was left to Jonny Wilkinson and Frederic Michalak to battle it out, Wilkinson steering his side into Saturday's final with all 24 of England's points - courtesy of three drop goals and five penalties.

Michalak, in contrast, managed just one kick from five attempts as the pressure of an attritional semi-final took its toll.

In the majority of the game's key contests, England held the upper hand, the return of Richard Hill giving them the edge in the back row, while Matt Dawson and Wilkinson enjoyed their best games of the tournament.

We needed passion and it was a great display
Martin Johnson

They were also far more disciplined, while France had a sin-binning in either half - Christophe Dominici and Serge Betsen the villains.

Only in the line-out were the English truly outgunned as Steve Thompson's throwing let his fellow forwards down.

The Six Nations champions dominated the opening 10 minutes and were duly rewarded with Wilkinson's first drop goal.

But just as Clive Woodward's side looked to be settling into their rhythm, Betsen scored against the run of play.

England's line-out was caught out as the ball fell for the French flanker, who just managed to ground the ball despite the efforts of Hill.

French flanker and try scorer Serge Betsen
Betsen scored the game's only try

From there, France dominated as England were run ragged despite Dominici being sin-binned for deliberately tripping Jason Robinson with his leg.

England finally regained the lead just before half-time following two Wilkinson penalties either side of a drop goal.

Both sides had been clearly affected by nerves from the outset, and they were still there in abundance in the second half.

Michalak and Wilkinson - normally so reliable - were both off target with straightforward penalties, as each side tried to gain a stranglehold in the dire conditions.

England finally managed to get the upper hand with 25 minutes to go when Betsen was sin-binned for a late tackle on Wilkinson.

England adapted to the weather better than us
Fabien Galthie

The English fly-half this time made no mistake with his spot kick.

Michalak's disappointing night ended prematurely when he was replaced by the more experienced Gerald Merceron but, for all his efforts, he failed to bring his players to life.

As the clock ticked on, Wilkinson grew in confidence, adding a further two penalties and a drop goal to round off the contest.

England: J Lewsey; J Robinson, W Greenwood, M Catt, B Cohen; J Wilkinson, M Dawson; T Woodman, S Thompson, P Vickery; M Johnson (capt), Ben Kay; R Hill, N Back, L Dallaglio.
Replacements: D West, J Leonard, M Corry, L Moody, K Bracken, M Tindall, I Balshaw.

France: N Brusque; A Rougerie, T Marsh, Y Jauzion, C Dominici; F Michalak, F Galthie (capt); J Crenca, R Ibanez, S Marconnet; F Pelous, J Thion; S Betsen, O Magne, I Harinordoquy.
Replacements: Y Bru, O Milloud, D Auradou, C Labit, G Merceron, D Traille, C Poitrenaud.

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