Stage set for World Cup final in Paris

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Paris, Oct 20: England and South Africa, two teams intent on rewriting their own sporting history, will square off in the most unlikely World Cup final at the Stade de France today.

It is a match that few people would have predicted when South Africa smashed England 36-0 during the pool stage but promises to be a classic confrontation between the northern and southern hemisphere styles of play.

England, inspired by the return of their goalkicker Jonny Wilkinson and the arrival of an estimated 40,000 fans, have defied the odds just to reach the final but are suddenly bidding to become the first country to win back to back titles after beating Australia in Sydney four years ago.

''We know we are the underdog and we know what we have to do,'' said England coach Brian Ashton.

''But we've had four cup finals in the past four weeks where we could have been on a plane and going home so our approach is just to try and win the game.'' While England have struggled, the Springboks have been the form team of the tournament, unbeaten after six matches, and bidding to emulate the South African team that won the 1995 World Cup at home.

They were not the favourites when the tournament started but catapulted to the top of the pecking order when New Zealand and Australia crashed out in the quarter-finals and hosts France fell to England in the semis.

Springboks fullback Percy Montgomery is the leading pointscorer and kicking at a better strike-rate than Wilkinson while left wing Bryan Habana has proven himself to be the deadliest finisher in the game with a record-equalling eight tries.

''There's nothing more that can be said that hasn't already been said...the talking is done now, it's time to play,'' Springbok captain John Smit told reporters.


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