Jonny Wilkinson kicked all of England's points Sunday in a rain-soaked 24-7 semifinal win over France to set up a Rugby World Cup decider against Australia.
The England flyhalf, under pressure following a below-par performance in the quarterfinal win over Wales, slotted three dropped goals and five penalties to extinguish the French challenge.
The French contributed to their own demise with ill discipline and poor handling in wet conditions and its backrow and backline -- critical in making France the form team of the tournament -- were nullified in the semifinals.
Wilkinson won the critical flyhalf duel with 21-year-old Frederic Michalak, who went into the semifinal as the tournament's leading scorer but missed four shots at goal and was off target with his tactical kicking before he was replaced in the 64th minute.
"Today the best team won the match, we cannot deny it. The conditions were not good for us, England was better than us," said French skipper Fabien Galthie. "It was very difficult to play with rain, we like to run with the ball."
England captain Martin Johnson said England was capable of avenging the 12-6 loss to Australia in the 1991 World Cup decider at Twickenham and was a strong chance to take the Webb Ellis Cup back to the northern hemisphere for the first time.
The Wallabies advanced with an upset 22-10 semifinal win over New Zealand on Saturday.
"It's about pressure, and Australia put New Zealand under pressure and we did the same today," said Johnson. "We were lucky he [Michalak] missed his kicks, but that's part of the game. We didn't give away many penalties, it was a great display."
Johnson celebrated a tournament record 17th consecutive World Cup match with the win, while prop Jason Leonard's brief appearance as a blood-bin replacement for Phil Vickery was enough to give him his 112th test cap, an international record.
He'd equaled Sella's record when he started against Wales in the quarterfinals.
France conceded 13 penalties and were awarded seven, while England were superior in the rucks and mauls, winning 94-34 and holding 60 percent of territory and possession. Coach Clive Woodward said England was celebrating its 21st win in its last 22 internationals, but its mission was far from accomplished.
"It's a happy change room but we came here to win, not to come second," he said. "It's been a good day, no more than that. We're really looking forward to this week and playing in the final next weekend."
Tens of thousands of white jerseys were among the 82,346 crowd at Sydney's Olympic stadium, making it almost a home game for the English, Woodward said.
"We've got a lot to celebrate" Woodward said. "The England fans over here were incredible, this is better than Twickenham. The noise was just fantastic. The big celebration ... is Jason Leonard's 112th cap, there was a massive cheer."
The French were reduced to 14 men for 10-minute periods after winger Christophe Dominici was yellow carded for tripping Jason Robinson in the first half and flanker Serge Betsen spent time in the sinbin for a late tackle on Wilkinson in the 53rd minute.
The 24-year-old Wilkinson kicked the ensuing penalty goal and added two others while England had the one-man advantage.
Wilkinson moved to 802 points in international rugby and his 24 points against France boosted his total in the 2003 tournament to 98, just five behind Michalak.
He'd opened the scoring with a right-foot dropped goal and the French replied immediately when Betsen stole a lineout ball inside the quarter and carried Robinson and flanker Richard Hill across into the left corner.
After long deliberations with video official Andrew Cole of Australia, referee Paddy O'Brien awarded the five-pointer and Michalak converted from out wide to give the French a 7-3 lead.
Wilkinson slotted one penalty to reduce the margin to a point while winger Dominici was in the sin bin and then drilled another dropped goal off his right boot -- supposedly his weaker side -- and another penalty from close range on the stroke of halftime for a 12-7 advantage at the interval.
The English held France scoreless in the second half, while Wilkinson added 12 points.
France, which lost the 1999 final to Australia after upsetting New Zealand in the semis, will meet the All Blacks in a playoff for third place on Thursday.
England's powerful forward pack shoved the French eight off the first three scrums to set the scene after heavy rain and high winds hit the Olympic stadium about 90 minutes before Sunday's semifinal.
England and France had met in two previous World Cups. England won the 1991 quarterfinal 19-10 in Paris, but the French triumphed 19-9 in the 1995 third-place playoff at Pretoria.
* England 24 (Jonny Wilkinson 5 penalty goals, 3 dropped goals)
* France 7 (Serge Betsen try, Frederic Michalak conversion)
* Halftime 12-7
* Attendance: 82,346
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