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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 07:18 GMT
Kirk backs faltering England
By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

Martin Johnson
England face a mighty contest against France on Sunday
Former Kiwi World Cup-winning captain David Kirk insists England are still the team to beat at this year's tournament despite their poor form.

The New Zealander, who led the All Blacks to victory in the inaugural 1987 event, believes Clive Woodward's side remain the best-equipped of the four remaining teams.

And despite his optimism surrounding his own country's hopes, Kirk suspects England will prevail when the stakes are at their highest.

"I am still going for England," he told the BBC Sport website. "Regardless of the fact that they have played poorly so far, I feel they have to play better and that they will.

"They have so much more in the tank, it is just a case of getting it out. But now they are in the semi-finals, they have nothing to lose.

"If they play poorly again, they will lose, no question. I thought they were a bit complacent against Wales, but I don't think they will be against France.

"If they can play to their ability, they should still be there in the final."

England will know before they run out against France on Sunday who will present them with the ultimate challenge should they win their semi-final.

Kirk is "quietly confident, but not over confident" that it will be the All Blacks who lie in wait.

If they were to get to the final the Wallabies would be hammered by either England or France
David Kirk
"Like a lot of New Zealanders I am not counting my chickens," he said. "Some good All Blacks teams have fallen at the last hurdle in the last four years, particularly against Australia.

"But there would have to be a lot of luck and bad play from the All Blacks for them to lose because this is not a good Wallabies side.

"If they were to get to the final I think they would be hammered by either England or France."

Kirk, an ambassador for the Tackle Hunger charity in partnership with Rugby World Cup, believes New Zealand have shaken off their habit of 'choking' at the death of big matches.

Since their infamous collapse against France in the semi-final four years ago, the All Blacks have repeatedly suffered defeat in tight contests against Australia - until this year.

"I get the feeling they have come through that period and winning the Bledisloe Cup (beating Australia home and away) was important for their development," Kirk added.

"They did tighten up and choke a little bit in the second game in Auckland, but they came through it.

"They would have been absolutely distraught if they had lost, but this team continues to improve and with the momentum they have got, they should beat Australia."



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