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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 15:31 GMT
England relish Twickenham transplant

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

It might have been an autumn international or a filthy February day in the Six Nations.

For the tens of thousands of England supporters present, the Telstra Stadium felt like Twickenham transplanted, a home from home.

A trio of England fans get into the spirit

Long after the final whistle had sounded, they cavorted around in delirious celebration, oblivious to the elements.

And as a string of Beatles numbers boomed around the arena, the red-rose hordes moved into full party mode, singing in the rain.

They sensed it would be their night when two hours before kick-off lightning crackled across a slatey Sydney sky and the heavens opened.

This England team have proved they have the weapons to win whatever the conditions, but surely in the rain, their mighty pack would prevail?

It was still spitting as the sides took to the field and the thunder threatened to erupt in the early minutes.

Phil Vickery was the first of several English players to depart for running repairs to a head wound as the front rows came to blows at the first scrummage.

For a while it appeared that fortune favoured the French, as Serge Betsen got the benefit of a television replay to give Les Bleus the lead.

Up in his coaches' box a smiling Bernard Laporte let out a huge "ouiiiiiii!" when the decision finally came through.

But as the rain started sheeting down and Frederic Michalak missed a couple of penalties, early French confidence started to drain away.

Michalak failed with four in all and his kicking from hand was equally wretched before Laporte put him out of his misery with 15 minutes left.

Prince Harry celebrates England's dominance
Even royalty got behind England's cause

By contrast England mastered the conditions to perfection, and in Jonny Wilkinson had the executioner to bring down the guillotine on French hopes.

Their forwards cranked through the gears in the 10 minutes before half-time, and Wilkinson transformed a 7-3 deficit into a 12-7 lead.

French frustration was evident as Olivier Magne exchanged heated words with Raphael Ibanez, and turned to desperation as the game was wrenched from their grasp.

When Betsen temporarily laid out Wilkinson with a late hit in the second half, England's hero remained imperiously unperturbed.

He merely got back to his feet, stared through the downpour, and amid a hail of jeers and whistles, booted over his fourth penalty.

When he slotted over another to virtually seal victory just after the hour, Prince Harry was seen swapping high fives and Clive Woodward raised his fists in triumph.

The final quarter was played almost entirely in the French half, as England swamped their demoralised opponents.

The triumphant mood was heightened as Jason Leonard, who had earlier been on the field for less than a minute as a blood replacement, came on for the last two minutes.

The venerable warhorse deservedly took his place in the record books as the most capped player of all, while Dorian West became the oldest player to play in a World Cup semi-final at 36 years and 42 days.

It only lacked a late try to cap it all off, but England's vociferous fans cared not a jot.

One was wrapped in a flag of St George with a message for the French coach: "Bonjour Bernard, La porte est ferme."

But for Martin Johnson and his men, victory barged open the door leading to ultimate glory.





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