The NewsFuror

Sunday, October 14, 2007

England wins Rugby Union by 14-9

England coach Brian Ashton paid tribute to his side's "bulldog spirit" after they produced another belligerent display to reach the World Cup final.

Jonny Wilkinson kicked nine points after Josh Lewsey's early try as England beat France 14-9 in Paris.

"We have some bright lads who have been through the mill and you can't buy experience like that," Ashton said.

"These guys won't give up. People talk about a British bulldog spirit and it is very much here in this group."

Following their 36-0 defeat to South Africa in the group stages in France, many critics wrote off England's chances of making an impact at the World Cup.

But Ashton said his players used all of the criticism and their past experience to power past the home favourites at the Stade de France.

"We knew it was going to be tough tonight but we did think we had a side that could go out and beat France.

"We didn't actually get things right in the first half but we were a bit smarter in the second in terms of achieving field position.

"And we knew eventually we would get within sight of their posts and Jonny would kick them over."

The victory was England's first in Paris since 2000, and the size of the achievement was not lost on an emotional Phil Vickery.

"It is just a brilliant day," said the England captain. "To beat France in France in a World Cup semi-final is a huge effort from everyone.

"It was not a fantastic game of rugby, it was two teams desperate to win a game. But it had everything in it - fair play to the boys, they dug in and we had a bit of luck.

"Sometimes in sport things don't make sense and predictions are not right, and it is a very special day when the underdog rises up."

Match-winner Wilkinson, meanwhile, admitted he was not 100% happy with his kicking and insisted England would swiftly turn their thoughts to becoming the first in history to retain the World Cup.

"We have faced some incredible teams in this tournament - and none stronger than the one we have taken out tonight," he said.

"That was an incredible performance by the French and I don't think my body has ever felt so sore.

"It has been a funny story, this World Cup. Some of my kicks have gone over and some have not. But you just go back to it and give it all you have got.

"I had a better time at the end (of the match) - and I'll accept that. But I realise I need to get back working.

"We have learned by going one game at a time. We have a day and an hour to really let it sink in.

"But don't fool yourselves for a second that the guys are not going to be thinking straightaway about going out and winning it next week."

Australian PM announces election

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced parliamentary elections for 24 November.

The PM earlier visited Governor-General Michael Jeffery, the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth, to ask for the dissolution of parliament.

The veteran PM is seeking a fifth term in office but analysts predict a heavy defeat after 11 years in office.

Mr Howard, 68, is badly trailing his Labor opponent Kevin Rudd, 50, after nine months of dismal polls.

Economic strength

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says the PM now hopes to persuade the electorate that voting for Labor would be a gamble with prosperity.

Mr Rudd has promised to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto climate pact.

He has also pledged sweeping reforms to health, education and controversial labour laws introduced by the PM.

Younger voters are said to be angry with Mr Howard for introducing legislation that makes it easier to hire and fire workers.

But Mr Howard will point to the enduring strength of the economy.

The Australian stock market is hitting record highs, while unemployment is at a 33-year low.

"Love me or loathe me, the Australian people know where I stand on all the important issues of their future," Mr Howard told a press conference after announcing the election.

He added: "This country does not need new leadership, it does not need old leadership, it needs the right leadership."

Mr Rudd rallied his supporters with a warning that victory was far from a foregone conclusion.

"To win this election we have to make history," he said. "We have only won twice from opposition since World War II.

"I believe this is going to be the fight of our lives."

Mr Howard's unflinching support for US President George W Bush has proven unpopular with many Australian voters, our correspondent says.

The war and the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have found the Liberal Party leader on the wrong side of public opinion, he says.

The PM is even behind in opinion polls in his own Sydney constituency of Bennelong, which he has represented since 1974.