Wilkinson kicks England into final
Graham Jenkins reports from the Telstra Stadium
November 16, 2003
Wilkinson slots a kick at a rain-soaked Telstra Stadium
© Getty Images
England booked a Rugby World Cup Final showdown with Australia after Jonny Wilkinson steered them to 24-7 triumph over France in their semi-final clash at the Telstra Stadium.
The weather was always going to be a key factor here and the wind and rain duly obliged throughout to ensure an abundance of handling errors and misplaced kicks. But it was England who weathered the storm and once again it was their fly-half who kicked them home by notching all of his side's points.
The errors only served to increase the pressure and intensity of this game with tempers threatening to boil over on more than one occasion. There was a fare share of bloodied gladiators with Phil Vickery the first to visit the bin in the opening minutes that ensured Jason Leonard appeared to make the World Record for Test appearances his own.
A mistake from France fullback Nicolas Brusque set the stage for the opening score of the game. He failed to claim a high clearance on his 22 in the wind and rain and could only knee the ball into touch. Two passages of play later Wilkinson slotted his first drop goal to give England the lead with jten minutes on the clock.
France stormed back and gained an almost immediate reward. Returning England flanker Richard Hill was caught napping at a lineout and France's Serge Betsen snatched the opportunity and the ball to surge towards the England line and crashed over under pressure from Jason Robinson and a back-tracking Hill.
After some delay as the decision went to the video referee the try was eventually awarded and Frederic Michalak added the extras to give France the advantage. The weather continued to do its best to break up all continuity and England did themselves no favours conceding two penalties in quick succession. Fortunately, Michalak failed with both attempts to blot his impressive copybook and set the tone for what was to be a disappointing showing from the young flyhalf.
An ill-timed bout of indiscipline from French winger Christophe Dominici proved to be a turning point shortly after. Primed to do some damage Jason Robinson danced round the Frenchman but he was tripped. The offence saw the winger sent to the bin and an injury picked up in the process meant he would not return.
Wilkinson's penalty attempt dropped short but the incident stirred England into raising their game. And Wilkinson ensured his side got some reward while having that man advantage when he slotted an easier chance moments later. Clear cut chances were rare and often conjured out of mistakes, but a delicate chip through from Michalak looked to have put Aurelien Rougerie in at the corner but Ben Cohen scrambled back to prevent him doing so.
Neil Back found a way through the French defence shortly before the break and surged into the 22 where he was hauled down by Yannick Jauzion before France scrambled the ball clear. But England pressed again at the lineout and created enough space for Wilkinson to slot his second right-footed drop goal to give England the lead once again.
And England weren't finished for the half just yet. A turnover at a lineout saw Vickery strom upfield and Betsen was penalised at the ruck as his team-mates looked to re-group. Wilkinson slotted the kick to send England into the break 12-7 to the good.
The torrential conditions refused to relent in the second period and appeared to get worse which meant it wasn't going to be pretty. Both sides had opportunities to stamp some sort of authority on this game but Wilkinson twice and Michalak once both failed to master the conditions.
In the end France's ill-discipline re-surfaced as frustration got the better of them and their grip on this game began to slip away. A late hit on Wilkinson saw the perpetual offender Betsen sent to the bin and Wilkinson added insult to injury by extending England's advantage with his boot.
France were lacking ideas and Wilkinson rubber-stamped his supremacy in the game by adjusting superbly inside the 22, form one foot to another, to slot a third drop goal, this time with his left foot.
The game was not yet out of reach but when the ordinary Michalak failed again with the boot on the hour mark it appeared it was going to be Englad's day. Another penalty from Wilkinson saw England almost home and France coach Bernard Laporte threw on Gerald Merceron to replace Michalak with his last throw of the dice.
The changes failed to have the desired effect and Woodward felt comfortable enough to re-vitalise his side with the introduction of some fresh legs. A final penalty from Wilkinson completed the scoring and sealed the win and the rain just compounded the misery for the French as the clock finallt ticked away.
France must make do with the play off against New Zealand while England must re-group ahead of a repeat of the 1991 World Cup Final against Australia next weekend.
France: 7 Try: Betsen Con: Michalak
England: 24 Pen: Wilkinson (5) Drop Goal: Wilkinson (3)
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery