ENGLAND are on their way to the World Cup final for the first time since 1995 but they had to withstand a heart-stopping final eight minutes to get there.

England had led 20-0 and seemed comfortable, but three late Tongan tries in a whirlwind five minute spell left a few hearts in mouths at the end.

But they just managed to hang on - just doing enough to foil Andrew Fifita at the end - to set up a date with holders Australia in Brisbane.

In a cauldron-like atmosphere in Auckland, generated by the army of Tongan supporters, who included King George Tupou VI, they turned Mount Smart Stadium into a sea of red and raised the roof with songs and hymns.

England had hit the front after 10 minutes and seemed in control from their with the way they went about their business.

A nice inside ball from ex-Saints skipper James Graham unleashed Gareth Widdop and the kick set up the perfect field position for England to put it through hands on the right to create the opener for Jermaine McGillvary.

Some fine Tongan running and passing almost paid dividends, but a track back from Graham, who had only moments earlier been laid low with a rib injury, forced a penalty from a pass off the floor.

Former Blackbrook and St Helens Crusader Graham played like a man possessed and was everywhere in a commanding display.

England's riposte was immediate and on 16 minutes skipper Sean O'Loughlin sparking the move polished off by Widdop, who refused to simply take the tackle with his forward momentum getting him over the whitewash.

A Josh Hodgson knee injury saw James Roby enter the fray on 23 and he was joined by club mate Alex Walmsley.

Both did sterling jobs in their stints on the field, with Roby his usual busy self on both sides of the ball.

Walmsley again provided impact with his sharp, thrusting runs.

England pushed the scoreboard forward with a Widdop penalty making it a 14-0, three score lead three minutes into the second half.

But given what Tonga had done in rallying from a bigger deficit than that against New Zealand, nobody was seeing that as job done.

Tonga continued to create half chances, and the men in red always had that attacking threat in them but England's scrambling defence forced them into making errors.

Roby's tackle on Ben Murdoch-Masila epitomised that, with the Saints nine halting him despite the physical mismatch and even craftily dispossessing him.

Constant England pressure from their rotated middle unit kept the Tongans under the cosh, and that paid off on 67 minutes when John Bateman crossed for England's third try that gave them a four-score lead and a foot into the final.

But backed by the fanatical flag-waving, hymn-singing crowd Tevita Pangai Junior crossed the whitewash in determined fashion to spark an unlikely late comeback eight minutes from time.

It did seem like just a mere consolation but with four minutes to play the Tongans were in again when Siliva Havili skipped over from dummy half.

And with their tails up, and the volume turned up a few hundred decibels Tonga stormed through again two minutes from time when skipper Jason Taumalolo carved out a try for Tui Lolohea, who added all three conversions.

The momentum was all with Tonga, with a red-shirted wave constantly sweeping forward.

But they just clung with Fifita's charge to the line being foiled by Elliot Whitehead's grab at the ball.

And despite the protestations the decision did not go upstairs and England

Tonga: Hopoate, Tupou, Jennings, Hurrell, Fusitu'a, Lolohea,

Hingano, Fifita, Havili, Taukeiaho, Ma'u, Manu, Taumalolo.

Replacements: Katoa, Terepo, Pangai Jnr, Murdoch-Masila.

England: Widdop, McGillvary, Watkins, Bateman, Hall, Brown,

Gale, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, S. Burgess, Whitehead, O'Loughlin.

Replacements: Walmsley, T. Burgess, Currie, Roby.