Back home - but things will never be the same for Jonny

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You would think enough pictures had been taken of Jonny Wilkinson in the past few days, but when he appeared for yesterday's England press conference after the World Cup winners' tumultuous 5am arrival at Heathrow, his face provoked an electrical storm of flashlight.

"The Man Whose Kick Won The World Cup" is back home; but home will never be the same sweet one he left. "I'm going to do exactly what I did before I went away," he announced to the 150-strong media circus that had pitched up at the team's Bagshot hotel. Famous first words from Britain's hottest new sporting property, spoken in a room hung, as chance had it, with tapestries of hunting scenes.

Like it or not - and he is clearly in the latter camp - Wilkinson now inhabits a world of bigger and brasher possibilities. As big and brash, in fact, as the two Page 3 girls from The Sun who turned up to welcome him in scanty England outfits complete with bright red high-heels - "ruck me" shoes if ever you saw them.

Asked about his obvious concerns over the question of becoming the next David Beckham, he acknowledged that he was "a bit worried" about it. His first priority, he said, was to reflect upon his recent heady experiences in calm and familiar surroundings. "I want to have time in the next few days to embrace it all back at home with my family in an environment where I do feel totally comfortable and totally myself," he said, as another fusillade of flash photography went off. "Sitting here probably emphasises that more than anything," he added.

Sitting between Wilkinson and his captain, Martin Johnson, England's coach, Clive Woodward, remained confident that his men would deal with the new demands provoked by their historic success. "I've got no doubt that things will change to a certain degree, but I believe they will take it in their stride," he said. "I always hoped we'd create superstars, and clearly we are doing that. I've got two guys to my left and right here who will handle it and enjoy it."

Enjoyment seemed less in evidence, however, for Wilkinson later in the day when he was reported to have changed his mind about flying back up to Newcastle for another scheduled press conference at his club, preferring to do the journey by car and insisting that his appearance would be no more than a photocall.

In the event, he did say a few words flanked by his mother, Philippa, and his father, Phil. After confirming his availability to play for Newcastle against Wasps on Saturday, he dismissed the suggestion that he was now in the same position as that other Newcastle idol, Alan Shearer, who cannot go into one of the city's branches of McDonald's without being mobbed. "I haven't been in McDonald's for the past four years," he said.

Wilkinson may be wary, but no one should be fooled into thinking he is fragile, as Matt Dawson, the man who supplied the perfectly timed and weighted pass for the stand-off's coup de théâtre, testified.

Croaking with the effects of the long drink - sorry, flight - Dawson praised the "exceptional" way in which Wilkinson had dealt with all the pressure on his shoulders. "I think we have been a little bit too quick to forget the negative press that was coming his way from before the World Cup began," Dawson said.

Not all that negativity had been directed solely at Wilkinson, but as England's towering number eight, Lawrence Dallaglio, pointed out, it had all had much the same effect. "When you get criticism from outside the players, you like to think it just reflects insecurity," Dallaglio said. "When it comes from other players it just serves to fuel what is already a highly motivated group of people."

Dallaglio spoke glowingly about the side's deep appreciation of the fans who had travelled out to Australia. "From the quarter-final onwards you could feel the England support growing and growing," he said. "In the semi-final we walked out against France to a sea of white shirts. That inspired the players. It was a real connection, which possibly had not been there before."

Dawson, too, spoke of the emotional resonance of England's support, particularly upon their homecoming. "It was hard to imagine the reaction back here when we were out in Australia," he said. "I rang people and they were saying, 'It's really kicked off at home, things have gone mad.'

"But it was still very hard to imagine that it could have been better than what we encountered in Sydney. The reception we have just had at that airport, though, for me..." - for a moment, the ebullient scrum-half seemed lost for words - "...it will go with me till the day I die. It was fantastic."

For Johnson, getting back home had enabled the realisation of what his team had achieved to start sinking in a little more. "People were calling us favourites, but we've only beaten Australia once in Australia, and that was in June," he said. "To beat them at home in the World Cup final was a massive achievement."

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