WORLD Cup semi-finalists England look set to receive a major boost with the return from injury of their star flanker Richard Hill.
Saracens forward Hill has missed England's last four World Cup games, including the pivotal fixtures against South Africa, Samoa and Wales, with a hamstring problem.
But as England settled into their beach-front hotel in Sydney yesterday, head coach Clive Woodward delivered an upbeat message about Hill's prospects of facing France next Sunday.
"We are very confident that Richard Hill will be available for the weekend," Woodward said. "Richard is smiling, and his whole persona is different. We are hoping to announce him in the team on Wednesday."
In Hill's absence, both Lewis Moody and Joe Worsley have done sterling service, but the impending return of such a critical player promises to lift the entire England camp.
"It is common knowledge that Richard Hill is one of the best number sixes in the world, but it is a sign of a good side that players can come in and do a very good job."
With Hill on the way back, Woodward could finally be in a position to field his strongest available side for what should be comfortably the biggest test of England's World Cup ambitions.
Full-back Josh Lewsey and wing Iain Balshaw have been nursing hamstring and knee problems respectively, so much so, that Leicester's Austin Healey arrives in Australia today as precaution-ary injury cover.
Woodward though, insisted yesterday that the latest medical opinion suggests he'll have a full squad to select from.
"Austin won't be joining the party, but it is more than possible that he could arrive on Tuesday and fly back on Wednesday, if they (Lewsey and Balshaw) are both fit," said Woodward.
"So he could be on his way on Wednesday and playing for Leicester on Saturday - that is the agreement that I have with Dean Richards (Leicester rugby director).
"But Austin has been playing very well. I have had Joe Lydon monitoring all the players in England, and he sees him as the right person to come in.
"If we need him great, if we don't need him it will be great as well, because it will mean that Balshaw and Lewsey are both fit, and we did miss them at the weekend."
England have arrived in Australia's World Cup capital on the back of another unconvincing display, although they dug deep in the second half to see off quarter-final opponents Wales 28-17.
England know that they will require a considerable improvement to overcome a French side, whose demolition of Ireland confirmed a team rapidly moving into top gear.
"We respect France tremendously well, but we don't fear them. This will be the biggest game of the players' lives at the weekend," Woodward added.
"I don't think that France have played the opposition that England have played against. We want to win the World Cup, and we are still on course. But we have got to be brutally honest, and we know that we are not at our best yet, but on form we deserve to make the semi-finals.
"We've got to step up a gear, and if we don't do that on Sunday, then we will come second. We haven't come here to come second, third or fourth - we've come to win it."
Woodward has also mounted a rigorous defence of fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, whose patchy form in the tournament so far has pinpointed widely as the reason behind England's lack of continuity.
Wilkinson kicked 23 points in the victory over Wales, and Woodward said: "Watching Jonny play yesterday, he had an outstanding game. Some of the things he did in defence were fantastic. He played like a wing forward at times.
"We don't want to change Jonny Wilkinson. He hasn't changed since I've known him, and I don't want to change him. Wilkinson was awesome against Wales. Defensively, he was everywhere, and I have got no issue with him - in fact, the complete opposite."
Woodward announces his starting line-up tomorrow, when he will hope that everything works out medically and he is able to field a team capable of challenging France.
"We have no doubt that England can win this game, but we will have to improve dramatically on our performance against Wales. To do that, we just need to keep a cool head and sort one or two things out," Woodward said.
"We have got to accept the criticism because the criticism is due, but it is about winning. We are playing some pretty average rugby at the moment, and still winning. I think that it is sheer bloody-mindedness and the will of the team that has seen us through.
"It is pretty frustrating for the team for the amount of work that they do. They are an outstanding group of players, but they are just not playing well. It happens, it is not a perfect world.
"You cannot be a Rolls-Royce every week, and we are certainly not that at the moment, so we have got to put it right. There is a good chance that we will have our strongest XV playing at the weekend, which we have not had in the tournament yet."