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Premiership Rugby

World champions set to play NZ Baa-baas

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

But, in a huge boost for English rugby fans, it was confirmed on Sunday by Rugby Football Union (RFU) boss Francis Baron that an England XV will tackle the New Zealand Barbarians at Twickenham on December 20, giving them a chance to see their heroes in action before Christmas.

The fixture, which will not be an official Test match, has been ratified by the International Rugby Board (IRB).

The Barbarians side is likely to include players from throughout the southern hemisphere, and it will be their second visit to Twickenham after they beat England in 1996.

Interest for the celebration match will be huge, and the RFU are confidently expecting a capacity crowd for what is an extra game before England launch their Six Nations campaign against Italy in Rome on February 15.

For those fans who cannot wait that long, the team will be arriving at Heathrow airport shortly before 05.00 GMT on Tuesday and will be carrying the spoils of victory – the Webb Ellis Cup.

As celebrations continue to mark that epic 20-17 extra-time victory over the hosts, Australia, Downing Street is discussing plans for an official celebration to mark the triumph.

Tributes have been paid to the England players from all quarters of British society, including the Queen, the Prime Minister and football captain David Beckham.

Tony Blair watched the game at his country residence Chequers.

"This was a fantastic day for English rugby and for England," said Blair.

"The team can be proud of their performance, their spirit and above all their character. It was a victory they worked for and the whole country can be proud of them.

"It has been a great competition in which all the home countries have performed with distinction."

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said that the Queen had sent a message to Clive Woodward congratulating the team on a great victory.

While The Queen watched the game on TV, her grandson Prince Harry cheered the team on at the Telstra stadium and afterwards congratulated the players in their dressing-room.

He described the match as a Final "he would never forget".

"I'm delighted that England has won the Rugby World Cup," said the Prince. "Both teams played brilliantly and it was a final I shall never forget."

England football captain Beckham, speaking from his home in Spain, revealed he did not get chance to see the game as he was training with his Real Madrid team-mates.

He said: "I did not get to see the game because I was in training but I had a friend at the game who called and so I heard the crowd cheer when they lifted the Cup.

"It was a very proud day for England. I said during the week that I felt England would win and Jonny really deserves what happened.

"Congratulations go to the whole team on behalf of the England football team."

England football coach Sven-Goran Eriksson also paid tribute to England.

"This was a huge challenge to go to Australia and beat the hosts in the Final," said Eriksson.

"They achieved the victory with excellent mental strength. They were favourites at the beginning of the tournament and you could see the belief they had in themselves.

"We must give credit to Clive Woodward and every single player. Congratulations to them all. They are lions.

"This is a very proud day for English sport. Everyone should enjoy this victory.

"We wish for the same success when we go to Portugal for the European Championships next year."

Officials from No.10 have been in discussion with the RFU over the past week and are considering a reception for the players at Downing Street.

A spokesman said: "We have been talking to the RFU to see how we could mark their efforts. A reception is obviously one of the things we are talking to them about."

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