Coached England to the World Cup final in 1991 I have changed my mind completely about England's prospects as a result of that one performance against Australia. They made them look like a rabble. I have to admit I was one of those who did not think they would win but they astonished everyone, maybe even themselves, for the performance on Saturday did not just beat Australia: it sent them packing. France are extremely unlikely to be so disorganised and will not be so easily pushed around by the pack, but England will believe anything is possible now. The win over Australia will have given them so much confidence, and they know that if they beat France, it will all come down to one 80-minute game, probably against South Africa.
The mindset will be critical in the semi-final. If England had found themselves against New Zealand I think it would have been a different situation, because we have this fear of what they can do to us. The players know it is going to be tough, because they will be playing the whole of France on Saturday. But they have regularly beaten France over the years and, deep inside, they will be saying to themselves: "Hey, we know we can win this one." In a World Cup semi-final and final, the performance and result are as much about what is going on between your ears as the rest of your body. A lot may depend on how France deal with the expectation upon them, or whether they cave in to the frailty they have shown in the past. This could help England, because despite the win over Australia, I still do not think the same degree of expectation is hanging over them as it is France.
They will still have to take it up another level in their all-round game. The victory over Australia was about backs to the wall, a collective will to say: "We have been awful, and if we go out now it will stick in our memories for the rest of our lives." Had they been beaten they would have been remembered as a poor side that underperformed. It was that determination rather than any perceived improvement in tactics or combinations that forged the win.
And England do not need to change their tactics to beat France, South Africa or Argentina. England's strength is self-evident: a very good pack that finally played to its potential in Marseille. They were far too good for the Australians, particularly in the tight five. When that is backed up with a goalkicker of Jonny Wilkinson's calibre, there will always be an opportunity to win a one-off contest. You would have to admit that France have the more dangerous runners behind the scrum if they get quality possession. But England have the ability to deny teams that sort of ball. While they will not have the same advantage as they did over Australia, England still have the capacity to make life very uncomfortable in the scrummage, and particularly in the lineout: Simon Shaw is in the form of his life in terms of international rugby.
There is some truth in the theory that teams who have an unexpected and all-consuming victory struggle to raise themselves to the same level in the next game. But the circumstances here are slightly different. In England's case, they have already had their flat period: they played horribly badly in their first two games, but their performances have improved in every game since. It has all come together for them at the right time.
World Cup-winning captain for Australia in 1991
We had the most amazing weekend of World Cup rugby. I woke up on Sunday morning and thought I was dreaming. Certainly I did not expect the France v New Zealand result. This World Cup has shown you should never rule anything out but you would have to look at France and South Africa as the most likely finalists. Who are now the favourites? On balance, the French.
The way that they played against New Zealand, their resolute defence and the composure to take their opportunities in the face of the All Blacks' strength at the set-piece, would suggest they are the team to beat. They are also going back to Paris and while some commentators might say that adds pressure, I have a feeling that France will rise to the occasion again against England in front of their supporters at the Stade de France. Man for man they have the better team and they also traditionally beat England when the teams meet on French soil.
Don't get me wrong, England will give it everything. They have really rallied since what you would have to describe as an almost disgraceful performance against South Africa in the group stages. In fact, that seems to have been a bonding experience for the team. They came off and simply said to themselves: "We cannot play like that again". They knew there were too many stakeholders in the English game that they had let down and since then you have seen them grow a terrific team spirit and I expected them to be very difficult for Australia to beat. There seems to be something about England and Australia in World Cups: they have now put us out of three out of the six tournaments played.
Michael Lynagh was probably right when he was quoted as saying that England had the game to beat Australia more than they did the other southern hemisphere countries or France and that the Wallabies would probably prefer to play South Africa in the quarter-final. It was no surprise England were all over us in the scrum or that they gained momentum from that. They know how to shut down the Australian team up front whereas we are more familiar with South Africa.
You have to say that you would probably not be surprised were Argentina to beat South Africa, who did not look good against the Fijians. Having said that, I do not want to take anything away from the wonderful performance by the Fijians but I think you will see a different South Africa side in the semi-final to the one that struggled in Marseille. The match was played in 30-degree heat and when I looked around in the last 15 to 20 minutes a lot of the big Springbok forwards were walking; they were out on their feet. The match in Paris is being played at 9pm and you will see a different South Africa, using their big forward pack to dominate: that is how they win their rugby.
There is no doubt, though, that it is extremely hard to predict what is going to happen anymore. It has been the most bizarre, and indeed the most amazing, World Cup. After the weekend's results form has gone out of the window in terms of deciding who will win it.
Nick-Farr Jones is an ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme. The Tackle Hunger campaign at the World Cup aims to raise awareness of the millions deprived of food and nutrition.
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