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Premiership Rugby

Woodward very confident ahead of SF

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Speaking to zurichpremiership.com at England's luxurious Manly Pacific hotel, Woodward admitted that his side had yet to fulfil their status as Rugby World Cup favourites, but insists that England are right where they always planned to be – one match away from the World Cup Final.

"We still have not played well but we are winning," said the coach.

"There has been a lot of debate about the whys and wherefores – sometimes we tend to over-analyse these things, but the most important thing is that we realise that we are not playing well.

"But I believe that the team will step up a gear against France.

"We have come to this tournament as one of the favourites – number one in the Zurich World Rankings – and I think deep in the back of all our minds we would have been very disappointed not to have made the semi-finals.

"Now we are at the semi-final stage, and it looks like we will have a full-strength side to choose from. We are playing against France which should be a great match-up; and I'm very, very confident about this weekend.

"I just feel that we are where we should be, and we have got a fantastic record over the past few months against these top sides in the world, including France. I am just very confident going into this game."

England booked their place in the semi-finals with a 28-17 win over the Welsh in Brisbane at the weekend, but Woodward's men struggled to assert themselves and lost the try count 3-1.

It was the steady left boot of fly-half Jonny Wilkinson that eventually saved English blushes, but it wasn't enough to stop media pouring scorn on what they perceived to be an extremely lacklustre England performance.

"Although there are a lot of question-marks coming through from the media I think that it is just focussing everybody's mind," said the coach.

"I feel more relaxed this week than I did at this point last week going into the Welsh game, which was a huge banana skin.

"Those guys played well, they had absolutely nothing to lose and that is how they played. We just managed to scrape through and make the semi-finals.

"But that is all history now and we have to learn from the lessons of what happened in Brisbane, no more than that, we are just looking forward to the game and very excited about what could happen on Sunday evening."

Woodward has spared his players from the flailing that many commentators have advocated, choosing instead to allow them to recharge their batteries ahead of facing the rampant French.

"We have eased off a little, we are going to do a couple of sessions in this evening," said Woodward.

"We trained during the day last week and I think that the team looked a bit tired, possibly we spent too much time in the sun.

"I believe that we will be picking from our strongest team for this semi-final, which is excellent – it is all about being fresh for Sunday night.

"We need to run through a few things based on what we know about the French team and do things a bit differently to refresh everyone this week.

"It is just a case of keeping everybody's mind focussed on Sunday night, everyone is fully aware of what is at stake."

By Andy Jackson

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