Jonny Wilkinson was England's hero and France's nemesis again on Saturday when his late kicks secured a tense 14-9 victory over the hosts to continue the holders' extraordinary Rugby World Cup defence.
After stunning the Stade de France in Paris with a Josh Lewsey try a little over a minute into the semi-final, England were on the back foot for most of the game.
However, superb defence kept them in it and Wilkinson, whose last-gasp drop goal beat Australia four years ago and who kicked all the points to beat France in the semis, landed a 75th-minute penalty to edge them ahead and a 78th-minute drop goal to keep them there.
Four weeks after being humiliated on the same pitch 36-0 by South Africa, England have now emulated Australia by reaching back-to-back finals and will want to break new ground next Saturday by becoming the first to retain the Webb Ellis Cup.
Their opponents will be decided on Sunday when South Africa take on an Argentina side appearing in the semi-finals for the first time.
"What a brilliant day, a fantastic week," said England captain Phil Vickery, whose team upset Australia in the quarter-finals in Marseille last weekend.
However, they were up against it on Saturday at a ground where they had beaten France only once in five attempts and had also lost a 1999 World Cup quarter-final to South Africa.
They got a dream start when Lewsey cashed in on a slip by stand-in fullback Damien Traille for the fastest try in World Cup semi-final history.
It proved to be a rare highlight in a match short on flair and accuracy but right at the top of the pile for tension.
France edged to a 6-5 halftime lead with two penalties for Lionel Beauxis as Wilkinson was off-beam with three goal attempts, while a penalty apiece had the hosts 9-8 ahead with half an hour to go.
France, whose pack stood toe to toe with England's eight, gradually took command but England, as they had against Australia, defended superbly.
With five minutes to go Jason Robinson, their tryscorer in the final four years ago, then marked his 50th cap with a scuttling run that was cut short by a high tackle.
Wilkinson, who did not play for England for three years after the last World Cup because of a succession of injuries, landed the resulting penalty then threw in the drop goal to open the key five-point lead.
When the whistle blew the French players collapsed to the floor. They too had battled back magnificently from their opening defeat by Argentina to beat the All Blacks last week and reignite their bid for a first title.
They could and should have won on Saturday but will instead have to contest the despised third/fourth play-off for a second successive tournament.
"We had the will and the right mind set but our finish was not good enough," said captain Raphael Ibanez.
Sunday's second semi-final is also likely to be a physical encounter full of tactical kicking and South Africa prop Os Du Randt said he is looking forward to that side of it.
"They are good scrummaging wise, good mauling wise too," said Du Randt, the only survivor from the Springboks' 1995 winning team.
Having lost their 11 test matches against South Africa, the Pumas are huge underdogs and are happy about it.
"We know that South Africa have a great team, but if they think they have already won, that's better for us," said flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez.