England 14 - France 9
There comes moments in sport where you just sit in shock, absolutely flabbergasted by the outcome. Four weeks ago when England could not even score a single point against South Africa, I did not in my wildest dreams imagine that today we would be sitting here, talking about the courageousness of Brian Ashton's men making it through these last few games. But they have - on brute strength, calm belief, experienced old heads, a passionate forward pack and a man that is one of the superheros of the modern era in rugby.
France and England were evenly matched today. But after the French threw everything at the All Black kitchen sink last weekend they lacked the extra fizz to convert their huge territorial advantage into points. Although this game had intensity it was in large parts an aerial ping pong display where the boot ruled. And everybody knows that if it comes down to the boot, then the team with Jonny Wilkinson will probably prevail.
England surprised the French by climbing on board early with an opportunist Josh Lewsey try off a French fumble from the kick off. This proved to be the only try of the test as as both sides closed down for a more physical encounter - exchanging penalties, kicking for field position and occasionally having a go at each other's line.
The old adage of the team who scores first in the second half will win did not come home to roost this time for Bernard Laporte's men. After Lionel Beauxis kicked his third penalty to take the lead 9-5, England ground their way back into the game. At around the 73rd minute, Wilkinson nailed a penalty after the ever inspiring Jason Robinson suffered a head high tackle and the balance of power shifted between the two teams. In every match there comes a moment where you just know who will be walking home the victor. For me this was England's moment. Wilkinson put the nail into the coffin in the dying minutes with a trademark drop goal and the 30,000 English spectators roared.
I haven't been kind to England (because they have been rubbish these last four years) but tonight I have nothing but admiration for a team that has been so low in the past. They showed incredible spirit, self belief and they deserve to be in the final. They have come back from the depths of despair, have been in tatters after their period with Andy Robinson, have suffered injuries to key players and have often looked like a team that has been walking around on antidepressants. Key credit has to lie with their humble coach Brian Ashton, their battling spirit, their crunching forwards, their old heads (Mike Catt, Jason Robinson take a bow) and of course their main man, Jonny. The guy represents everything good about rugby.
England beat Australia in extra-time to win the last World Cup final in 2003 and by beating France, they join Australia as the only countries to play in three World Cup finals and two in succession. Well done Engerland.