Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 24 News List

England and France share concepts

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

The English and French have been trading more than blows ahead of their Rugby World Cup semifinal.

England Coach Clive Woodward said the French had obviously learned the rigid discipline that had been the trademark of his England squad, while the English coach conceded he'd adopted a more Gallic attitude to training going into Sunday's encounter at Sydney's Olympic stadium.

Woodward said heavy training might have contributed to slow starts against South Africa, Samoa and Wales.

So after the 28-17 quarterfinal win over Wales, he'd decided it was time for a different approach and has put his squad through two light sessions this week.

Expecting that England will make a more passionate start, because "France isn't a team you want to be chasing," Woodward said the result will hinge on discipline.

With French flyhalf Frederic Michalak leading the scoring for the tournament and his English opposite Jonny Wilkinson in second place, any penalties conceded will be dangerous.

"We're under no illusions, the way to lose a big game like this is not to play within the rules -- you have to have a disciplined approach," Woodward told a news conference Saturday. "We pride ourselves on that.

"I like to think the French have taken a leaf out of our book over the last few years. And I think that's why they've become a far more disciplined team to play against and are more dangerous -- you can't rattle them.

"In saying that, rugby is still a very physical, confrontational game and I think England is a very physical, confrontational team when we've got our minds in gear."

Woodward said England had struggled in the penalty count earlier in the tournament but had improved against Wales.

French No. 8 Imanol Harinordoquy said he thought England would still resort to niggling tactics to unsettle them and his English opposite Lawrence Dallaglio agreed, pointing out that France had conceded more penalties in their quarterfinal win over Ireland than they had in three previous games -- and hadn't been under any real pressure.

But Woodward said there'd be nothing illegal about the way England approaches the game.

"There's no time for any nonsense, the game is too quick. You don't want to concede silly penalties or lose a player," said Woodward. "So we know what we're about. I also think France know what they're about ... and that's why it'll be a cracking game."

England and France are battling to be Europe's representative in the final. No northern hemisphere team has claimed rugby's biggest prize.

England has won 20 of its last 21 matches, the only loss coming in Marseilles when a second-string XV went down 17-16 to France in August. And Woodward said France was going in with a little bit more form, but none of that would count.

The ledger is 2-2 in head-to-heads over the last two years, the French winning the 2002 Six Nations and England winning the Grand Slam this season.

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