Friday, October 12, 2007
England v France
England v France - Match Pack
England take on tournament hosts France at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday with a place in the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final awaiting the winner.
Few people would have predicted that these two sides would be lining up against each other at the Stade de France following their equally unimpressive tournament debuts.
England's error-strewn performance against the USA at least resulted in victory - for France, the price they paid for a lacklustre display against Argentina was defeat.
England's campaign would hit rock bottom at the hands of the Springboks who inflicted a 36-0 mauling.
Like the majority of their Six Nations contemporaries both England and France failed to find top gear in the pool stages and the general northern hemsiphere malaise had fans and pundits alike writing off the chances of the tournament hosts and defending champions.
Last weekend's quarter-finals were set to be the last hurrah with very few giving either side any hope of snuffing out the chances of the undefeated southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and South Africa.
But sport has a habit of making fools of all the so-called experts.
At the end of a thrilling day of action last Saturday both sides found themselves in the last four and had once again guaranteed the much maligned-northern hemsiphere a finalist in the sport's biggest tournament.
England head coach Brian Ashton has retained the team captained by prop Phil Vickery that sent the Wallabies crashing at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
It is the first time during Ashton's 15-Test reign as head coach that he has named the same side in successive games.
And it would hardly have been a long selection meeting, given the strength of England's performance in defeating their quarter-final opponents last weekend.
Full-back Jason Robinson will become the latest England player to win 50 caps in what would be his farewell Test match before retirement should France win.
Robinson's fellow 2003 World Cup-winner Mike Catt is retained in midfield alongside Mathew Tait after answering a late SOS to replace the injured Andy Farrell against the Wallabies.
And the pack that destroyed Australia's forwards in Marseille is also retained, with England hoping for another mighty scrummaging performance from their front row of Andrew Sheridan, Mark Regan and Vickery.
Lawrence Dallaglio again has to be content with a place on the bench, missing out behind Harlequins number eight Nick Easter, who packs down in the back row alongside Leicester pair Martin Corry and Lewis Moody.
Ashton said: ``It certainly makes a difference (to be able to name an unchanged team). The 22 out there last week more than merit another shot at it this week.
``We need to improve in all areas, we know that. I can't imagine we will catch France off-guard in the same way we caught Australia off-guard.
``France are the home country, at the home stadium, the crowd are behind them, we will have to go up a gear. We know that.''
Catt was preferred to Farrell, who misses out on a place in the squad with Toby Flood retained on the bench.
``Mike took his chance last week, simple as that. It was a very, very difficult decision,'' said Ashton.
``Toby came on with 18 minutes to go in a hot pressure situation and I thought he handled himself exceptionally well in all areas of the game.''
Robinson will lead the team out at the Stade de France and said: ``This is what I came out of retirement for. It is a massive, massive game.''
England are bidding to reach a second successive World Cup final and remain on course to make history, given that no country has successfully defended the Webb Ellis Trophy.
France have also named an unchanged team that is set to be roared on by the vast majority of a packed Stade de France.
Frederic Michalak was unable to displace Lionel Beauxis at fly-half, despite turning the game when he came on as a second-half substitute against the All Blacks.
Damien Traille, a centre by trade, keeps his place at full-back, while Serge Betsen and Olivier Milloud have recovered from knocks sustained last weekend to start against the world champions.
Flanker Betsen took a knee to the head against the Kiwis and was forced off after just five minutes. He is back in training though, and team manager Jo Maso insisted the Biarritz star is fit.
``No doctor would take any risks in this respect,'' Maso said. ``We had some tests done in Wales, and he is okay.
``Please trust us, we would not put him on the pitch if he was in any way unfit.
France's sensational comeback display against the All Blacks, who were 13-3 ahead at half-time at the Millennium Stadium, clearly impressed the Les Bleus selectors.
Maso added: ``We are using the team that beat New Zealand last week because we were satisfied with their performance.
``We beat New Zealand with this team so there is no need to change. We had two possible ways of playing and we have chosen this one.''
Head coach Bernard Laporte predicted the boot of Jonny Wilkinson and England's defence would be the main dangers on Saturday.
``As far as they are concerned, we know their main strength is their defence,'' he said.
``In our case we are looking at Wilkinson as he is the world's best kicker, and we need to be careful what he does.
``I am confident we have made the right choices.''
It is the first time since November 2004 that Laporte has named the same team for back-to-back matches.
Laporte insisted the team selection was not an emotional choice following the amazing defeat of the All Blacks.
``So far we have chosen five different teams for five different games, and we have chosen those teams on a sporting and mental criteria.
``The eight not on the pitch are as important as the 22 on it. We trust all of them.
``Hopefully we have two more matches to go - that is the objective.''
Neutrals will be hoping for another dramatic twist in this year's tournament and with the game's biggest prize looming into view neither side will be found wanting for commitment.
JONNY WILKINSON v LIONEL BEAUXIS
World Cup record-breaker Wilkinson - he now has more points than any other player in the tournament's history - averaged 17 points a game during England's unbeaten three-Test run that secured an unexpected semi-final place. The fly-half's mere presence has lifted an England side that floundered badly during its opening two pool games, but opposite number Beauxis, at just 22, is one of world rugby's rising stars. He handled the pressure brilliantly against New Zealand last Saturday, and will seek a repeat performance.
ANDY GOMARSALL v JEAN-BAPTISTE ELISSALDE
England's 2003 World Cup captain Martin Johnson has hailed scrum-half Gomarsall's influence on the team since he broke into it three games ago. He is at the peak of his powers, which represents an amazing transformation for a player who did not have a club last year and found himself involved in pub sevens rugby. Gomarsall is relishing every minute of England's World Cup progression, yet he will need to produce another top-class display opposite Elissalde, whose goalkicking and general stewardship behind a powerful French pack means he poses an immense threat.
ANDREW SHERIDAN v PIETER DE VILLIERS
Sale strongman Sheridan made powerful claims as the world's most destructive loosehead prop, courtesy of another wrecking job on the bewildered Australia front-row in Marseille last Saturday. Rarely, in recent Test rugby history, has one team's scrum been so dominant. Sheridan and company, though, accept France will be a much tougher proposition in that department, with vastly-experienced De Villiers unlikely to crumble in anything like the fashion that Wallabies tighthead Guy Shepherdson folded.
SIMON SHAW v FABIEN PELOUS
Wasps lock Shaw, even allowing for Sheridan's immense effort against Australia, has probably been the form England forward of their World Cup campaign. A magnificent scrummager, mighty ball-carrier and colossal physical presence, it begs the question why he has started less than 30 Tests since making his red rose debut 11 years ago. Shaw's second-row partnership with Ben Kay has flourished, and he could gain a significant edge over opposite number Pelous, the former France captain now approaching 120 caps. Age - 34 and 33, respectively - won't be a barrier to either of them, but if England win, then expect a dominant display by Shaw.
Teams for England versus France, World Cup semi-final, Stade de France, Paris, Saturday.
England: J Robinson (unattached); P Sackey (Wasps), M Tait (Newcastle), M Catt (London Irish), J Lewsey (Wasps); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), B Kay (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), M Stevens (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps), P Richards (London Irish), T Flood (Newcastle), D Hipkiss (Leicester).
France: D Traille (Biarritz); V Clerc (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), C Heymans (Toulouse); L Beauxis (Stade Francais), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibanez (Wasps, capt), P de Villiers (Stade Francais), F Pelous (Toulouse), J Thion (Biarritz), S Betsen (Biarritz), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin).
Replacements: J-B Poux (Toulouse), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), S Chabal (Sale Sharks), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz), F Michalak (Toulouse), C Dominici (Stade Francais), C Poitrenaud (Toulouse).
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).
Touch judges: Paul Honiss (New Zealand) and Marius Jonker (South Africa).
can England go on to retain the World Cup?
RWC03 semifinal England v France