x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

England floored by fantastic French

France will meet Wales in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup next Saturday after Martin Johnson admitted they "deserved to win" against his England side. Wales won the earlier all-Celtic clash.

France celebrate their quarter-final win over England.
France celebrate their quarter-final win over England.

A mesmerising French team beat England 19-12 at Eden Park on Saturday night to reach the rugby World Cup semi-finals and an appointment with Wales.

France were unrecognisable from the team which lost two group stage games and had been written off by many back home, as they tore into the English from the start, going in at halftime 16-0 ahead thanks to tries from Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard, and two Dimitri Yachvili penalties.

Ben Foden gave England hope in the 55th minute when he burst through to score and Jonny Wilkinson converted, but a Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal eight minutes before the end nudged France 19-7 ahead. Mark Cueto scored for England for 19-12, but Toby Flood was unable to convert and the French held on for victory.

"This was for the jersey, for our family, our friends and our supporters here in New Zealand because they were very sad last week," Yachvilli said.

France, the losing finalists in 1987 and 1999, have a reputation for producing one great performance in a World Cup but never in a final and scrum-half Yachvili tried to keep a lid on celebrations by adding: "It's just a quarter-final, there are still two games to win."

Defeat finished an England World Cup campaign blighted by allegations of off-field misbehaviour as the 2003 champions and losing finalists four years ago suffered their earliest exit at the tournament since a 1999 quarter-final defeat by South Africa.

"We had two defensive lapses on the edge and they scored tries and suddenly we were way behind," said England manager Martin Johnson. "I'm proud of the guys for the way they came back. It's so disappointing because games like this are winnable but not when you are 16-0 down," added England's 2003 World Cup-winning captain. "It's a brutal way to end it but that's the way it ends for everyone except the winners. They (France) deserved to win."

The Welsh had earlier beaten Ireland 22-10 in a pulsating clash in Wellington. Rhys Priestland, the 24-year-old playmaker converted Wales first and last tries - the first from the sideline - hit both uprights with penalty attempts and directed Wales around the field well. Operating with confidence in restricted space, Priestland shunted the ball to runners with good judgment and he tackled soundly.

"Rhys Priestland I thought controlled the game exceptionally well," Warren Gatland, the Wales coach said. "My heart was in my mouth a little bit when the second penalty hit the post because if that had gone over the game was over.

"I thought the way he controlled the game, the way he ran himself, he played with a lot of width and he's still a young player that I think is making our midfield look dangerous as well."

Backline coach Rob Howley also paid tribute to the young Priestland, for his management of the game as Wales defended its lead through the second half. When Wales lost to world champion South Africa 17-16 in its first match in pool play, Priestland missed a dropped goal in front of the posts that might have saved the match. On Saturday, as part of a Welsh team growing in confidence, he played with much more poise and control.

"I thought both halfbacks played well," Howley said. "It was difficult conditions with the wind. We were a bit unsure which way the wind was actually blowing and I think the important thing was that we played territory and (scrumhalf) Mike Phillips and Rhys played a huge part in that.

"Rhys played very well in the last 10 or 15 minutes of that game and that's what test rugby's all about, playing position. We had to do that today and No. 9 and No. 10 did that very well."