FRANCE stand between England and a place in the 2003 World Cup final after Jonny Wilkinson and super-sub Mike Catt inspired a frantic second- half fightback against Wales at Suncorp Stadium.
Quarter-final opponents Wales looked on the verge of achieving World Cup rugby's greatest upset when they established a 10-3 interval lead through unconverted tries from fly-half Stephen Jones and skipper Colin Charvis.
But England finally subdued the magnificent underdogs with a 19-point unanswered scoring burst during the third quarter.
Wilkinson booted 23 points, while centre Will Greenwood scored his customary try against Wales following a sensational Jason Robinson break.
Catt's interval introduction made all the difference though, as he gave England a sense of midfield calm where there had been mayhem before.
Yet England will require a monumental improvement against France in Sydney on Sunday if they are to keep alive their World Cup dream.
On current form, France must start as firm favourites, especially having beaten England twice in the last 20 months, and Martin Johnson's men can expect some intensive work on the training pitch this week.
Wales, in probably Steve Hansen's last match as coach, made them work for everything, and took the try count 3-1 with substitute flanker Martyn Williams claiming a 71st-minute touchdown that centre Iestyn Harris converted.
Both sides took the field to a rapturous ovation and it was a red-letter day for veteran England prop Jason Leonard, who equalled Frenchman Philippe Sella's world Test cap record of 111. Wilkinson, meanwhile, won his 50th cap at the tender age of 24. England announced their intentions from the start when scrum-half Matt Dawson sprinted unopposed into Welsh territory, but Wilkinson inexplicably hit the post with his opening penalty.
The Welsh response was breathtaking. Centre Mark Taylor ripped open England's muchacclaimed defence and a try seemed certain given attacking numbers out wide.
But as lock Robert Sidoli stretched for the touchdown, England flanker Lewis Moody pulled off a stunning tackle that dislodged the ball from Sidoli's grasp.
Wales should have gone ahead on 12 minutes but Stephen Jones hit the post with his first penalty attempt.
Wilkinson opened the scoring through an 18th-minute penalty 45 metres out, yet there was no sign of England establishing a stranglehold as they found themselves hindered by poor technical control. Dawson was England's attacking spark, yet their degree of desperation was summed up when Wilkinson snatched a drop-goal chance and sent the ball drifting well wide of the posts.
England even sacrificed a kickable penalty in pursuit of a try but it proved an unwise choice as Wales wing Mark Jones comfortably caught Wilkinson's crosskick to Neil Back and cleared the danger.
England found Wales' tough-as-teak defence intimidating at times.
Another ill-judged kick set up Wales first try when wing Shane Williams set off on a run from inside his own half, and it was Mark Jones who pressed the accelerator, galloping into space.
With England's defence at sixes and sevens, full-back Gareth Thomas and then Williams again acted as critical links, allowing Stephen Jones to round off an exceptional move.
There was worse to come for England just five minutes later when they were given a taste of their own medicine. England were driven from a Welsh attacking lineout and Charvis jubilantly claimed the touchdown.
Stephen Jones again failed with the conversion but at half-time and against all odds, Wales led 10-3.
Woodward made an interval substitution, replacing an out-of-sorts Dan Luger with Bath back Catt, who went into midfield with Mike Tindall moving to the wing.
But it took Robinson's unbelievable 50-metre break to unlock Wales' fortress defence.
Greenwood appeared on Robinson's right shoulder, claiming his seventh try in five Tests against Wales and the 30th of his England career, putting him level with Jeremy Guscott on international touchdowns. Only Rory Underwood has scored more for the Red Rose brigade.
A Wilkinson penalty completed England's recovery that put them 13-10 ahead, with a further short-range strike three minutes later. Catt continued to exert tactical control, setting up the field position from which Wilkinson landed his fourth penalty for a 19-10 advantage.
Two more Wilkinson strikes gave England breathing space, and despite Williams scoring late on, Wilkinson's final drop-goal secured the triumph.
ENGLAND - Tries: Greenwood. Cons: Wilkinson. Pens: Wilkinson 6. Drop Goals: Wilkinson. WALES - Tries: S Jones, Charvis, M Williams. Cons: Harris. ATT: 51,500.