England at full strength for France

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Marseille, Oct 8: England began preparing on Monday for their World Cup semi-final against France with a fully fit squad and morale at the highest point for four years.

Saturday's 12-10 victory over Australia has transformed the mood of players and fans alike while coach Brian Ashton, who has had to deal with injuries on an almost daily basis, will hardly know what to do with 30 fit players.

Centres Andy Farrell and Olly Barkley, both ruled out of the Australia game with leg injuries, are both expected to be available for Saturday's match at the Stade de France.

Flanker Lewis Moody, who left the Velodrome with his arm in a sling to protect a shoulder problem, is similarly confident.

"There were lots of tired and battered bodies," assistant coach John Wells told reporters on Monday before the squad travelled by train for Paris.

"We had recovery yesterday and we'll have more recovery today. The guys had some ribs and chips on Saturday night, and that was as far down the road to letting their hair down that they had."

Four years ago England beat France 24-7 in the semi-finals with all their points coming from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson.

He notched all 12 on Saturday, though a return of four from seven penalty attempts will ensure many extra hours kicking practice over the next few days for the famously perfectionist flyhalf Wilkinson, however, said it was not just the swirling Marseille wind that made kicking difficult, but the Gilbert ball being used at the tournament.

"As a kicker here you are not completely accountable. Sometimes it is like you are almost hitting and hoping, and kickers just never do that," he wrote in Monday's Times newspaper.

"This is a difficult subject and I don't want to make a big deal out of it. But in kicking you naturally want to control as much as you can; you can't ever control the wind and you can't control the pitch conditions. It seems that, at this tournament, the ball is another one of those.

"I know it is the same for everyone and I am also aware that some kickers, Chris Paterson notably, have been extremely successful.

"But for me, I feel I've got a few kicks right in this tournament and still been punished by seeing them go wide. On Saturday I missed three from seven; one of those I knew immediately I'd executed wrong, but I was happy with the other two.

"The wind on Saturday was very tough, the flags on the top of the stadium told a different story to those at pitchside and the wind changed a couple of times when we were down there too. That makes kicking here really tough mentally. If the ball moves in mid-flight, you have to work out if it is the wind, the ball or yourself.

"Don't worry. I'll be back down to the training ground tomorrow trying to figure all that out."


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