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RugbyU: England celebrates semi-final victory

other Updated: Oct 14, 2007 19:22 IST

AFP
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England was celebrating Sunday its rugby union team reaching the World Cup final with prime ministers, former team captains and millions of booze-fuelled fans joining in the party.

The champions' 14-9 semi-final victory Saturday over hosts France in Paris triggered wild celebrations in pubs up and down England.

Despite the exodus of an estimated 40,000 rugby lovers to the French capital, including huge numbers without tickets for the game, there were more than enough supporters back home to pack out public houses and bars.

Some 5,000 people gathered at the O2 Arena in London for the biggest screening outside Paris, many no doubt tempted by the promise of the first 2,003 pints served being given away to mark England's 2003 World Cup triumph.

The match was shown free at 20 cinemas and on giant outdoor screens in Hull, Bradford and Rotherham -- in rugby league's northern heartland.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown congratulated England on their win at the Stade de France.

"I want to congratulate (coach) Brian Ashton, (captain) Phil Vickery and the whole England rugby team on their fantastic achievement," the Scot said.

"This is a proud day for the country and I wish the team the best of luck for the final."

The defending champions will face either South Africa or Argentina in the final at the same venue on October 20.

The News of the World newspaper gave all the England players a mark of 10 out of 10 rating -- even the replacements, including Lawrence Dallaglio and Toby Flood, ranked as "quiet."

Former England captain Will Carling said neither side had expected to reach the semi-finals, let alone the final.

"Who would have believed it?" he told the tabloid.

"Not me a few weeks ago but I genuinely think England can retain the Webb Ellis trophy now.

"England knew this was a day when they had to take their chances.

"Once again we all sighed with relief when Jonny Wilkinson put that drop goal over. We've been there before -- and who says he can't do it once again next Saturday? I just cannot wait."

Matt Dawson, the retired 2003 World Cup-winning scrum-half, said he was proud of England's "dogged, determined and ugly performance."

"After four miserable years, they have come from nowhere and produced two magnificent hard-core, professional, precise and gutsy performances," he told BBC radio.

"As for coach Brian Ashton, I think back-to-back wins in World Cup quarter and semi-finals warrant every selection he has made.

"England are still not a pretty side, but they are now winning games and who says England can't win this tournament?

"They've just turned over Australia and France and whoever goes through from the other semi-final -- whether it is Argentina or South Africa -- are going to be petrified."

The Sunday Times newspaper's front page said: "England storm to World Cup final."

"On a Parisian evening of unbearable drama, England defied the odds and achieved one of the country's greatest victories to reach their third World Cup final," wrote David Walsh in the broadsheet.

"The match was won by Jonny Wilkinson's magical left foot and the unflinching courage of the entire team. The self-styled 'grumpy old men' of England beat the tournament hosts 14-9 because they simply refused to accept defeat."

Bookmakers Ladbrokes said England are 6/4 to retain the World Cup, odds shortened from 6/1. South Africa are 8/11 favourites while Argentina are 7/1.

"Pride of a nation," said the Sunday Express newspaper. "Wilko puts the boot into the French."

"Le Crunch of all crunches may not have delivered geometrically perfect rugby or clear-headed thinking but for sheer breathtaking intensity and a stunning counter-punch at the end, last night at the Stade de France was tumultuous," wrote Neil Squires in the tabloid.

British Culture Secretary James Purnell was there to witness fly-half Wilkinson score the winning points.

"When Jonny Wilkinson lined up his drop goal, the whole country knew what was about to happen," he said.

"England defended brilliantly and deserve their place in the final."

David Cameron, the leader of Britain's main opposition Conservatives, said: "What an amazing result. The England rugby team have made the country enormously proud with their performance in Paris."

ITV television roped in a Royal Shakespeare Company actor rehearsing to play Henry V to perform extracts of the English king's rousing speeches from the eve of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt in its pre-match build-up.

Adding to the sporting cheer, England's football team beat visitors Estonia 3-0 in London to edge a step closer to reaching the 2008 European Championships.

The England cricket team lost by 107 runs to Sri Lanka in Colombo in the fifth and final one-day international. But England nonetheless won the series 3-2 on a sports-packed Saturday.

Television channels had predicted bumper viewing figures, beer sales soared and pubs ordered in extra supplies.

The Independent on Sunday said "What a day! What a game! What a result!" -- accompanied by a picture of singer Rod Stewart cheering on Scotland in their 3-1 football win over Ukraine.