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PARIS - Up to 40,000 English rugby fans were continuing to pour into Paris on Sunday (NZ time) for the Rugby World Cup semifinal showdown with France.

The match between the two arch-rival teams was scheduled to kick-off at 8am (NZ time), but fans had been crossing the Channel by trains, boats and planes since Friday.

Eurostar reported that their trains would be carrying 40 per cent more passengers on Saturday and all flights out of London to Paris were fully booked.

Ticket prices to get into the 80,000 capacity Stade De France in the northern suburb of St Denis also rocketed with touts asking for 1,000 euros at the Gare du Nord rail station where trains from London arrive.

City bars and cafes were also rubbing their hands as fans of both sides quenched their thirsts and whetted their appetites during the day before heading out to the stadium.

England coach Brian Ashton said: "The match is going to be a massive occasion for everyone. We understand the difficulty and the challenge before us, but we are ready for it. I've never seen an England team as ready."

English fans were joined by thousands of Australian and New Zealand fans, who had earlier snapped up tickets for the semi-final fully expecting their teams to be the contestants.

But in two shock results last Sunday, world cup holders England rocked Australia 12-10 in Marseille and France pulled out the upset result of the tournament by bouncing back to beat the All Blacks 20-18 in Cardiff.

That result sparked a huge nationwide wave of support for coach Bernard Laporte's squad who had been facing a humiliating exit from the competition following the 12-17 loss they endured in the opener against Argentina in Paris on September 8.

"Allez France (Go France)," headlined Le Parisien, while sports daily L'Equipe ran with "Give us your best game!"

"It's time for the most unlikely 'crunch' in history," L'Equipe commented.

"One month ago who would have betted on this England v France game - a remake of the their semifinal in Sydney 2003."

England won that encounter 24-7 with all the points coming from the boot of first five-eighths Jonny Wilkinson and the Newcastle player once again carries most of his team's hopes, his picture featuring on most front pages in the British press on Saturday.

The French public though were convinced that this time around the result would be different.

An opinion poll carried out by Ifop-MSN found that 88 per cent of the French believed their side would win through to the final with only nine per cent thinking the English would triumph.

Security forces, meanwhile, were beefed up around the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower where a giant screen has been erected for live transmission of the game and near the Champs-Elysees, where fans traditionally gather to celebrate following sporting successes.

- AFP