Umaga puts boot into Wilkinson's penchant for penalties

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The Independent Online

Toulon are joint leaders of the French Top 14 and Jonny Wilkinson is the talk of France. Last season's relegation candidates are soaring on the back of the England fly half's metronomic goal kicking.

In his first four matches, Wilkinson has scored 51 of the 90 points with which Toulon have clambered to the summit of French rugby. It is not just the sun that is beaming on Toulon's Stade Mayol.

Yet if this sounds a familiar tale, one man sees the need for Wilkinson to become a changed man. What is more, former New Zealand All Black Tana Umaga, now assistant coach at Toulon, believes the continuing influence of penalty goals in the game is not so much a comment on Wilkinson's accuracy, but a dire indictment of the game itself in its modern guise.

Tana Umaga was never a man to beat about the bush, once famously telling a referee who complained about an overtly physical tackle in one international 'Mate, we're not playing tiddlywinks here'.

It is his considered view that Wilkinson must, besides demonstrating the skills that could take him back into the England side this autumn, embrace a wider vista in terms of his lifestyle. "I am surprised by the way he tends to be so self critical, almost beats himself up, if he doesn't adhere totally to a specific part of a game plan or strategy" he said.

"If you come and live down in this part of the world, you have to embrace it. The culture is incredible; medieval hilltop towns, castles and ports. It is an area rich in these things and you want to enjoy them, experience them as well as do your job."

Fourteen penalty goals, three conversions and a drop goal from four matches, in three of which he has been substituted early, hints at the early success of Wilkinson's move to the south of France. But Umaga sees the wider picture and what he surmises in the modern game is far from encouraging.

"Take our first match against Stade Francais. We didn't do anything in that match and yet we still could have won. It really shouldn't be so. If we are honest with ourselves here, which we were as a coaching staff, we thought we were lucky to get away with that. It was good to see Jonny back at his best but this is what happens, this is what you are able to the modern game.

"You don't have to play yet you are still in the game whereas years ago, the better teams won. What it does, it shows you that you don't have to be the better team. You just need a team that can be good at one or two things for they will keep you in a game if you do them well.

"For us, we didn't offer anything much. When we got into their half, we just took what we could. But that's all you need to do in the modern game.

"It's just about whether you won. That is what keeps you moving up the ladder and keeps people in jobs.

"But that is not good for the long term of the game. Sit back from your coaching role and think, 'what have we really achieved, have we enticed more people to come and watch the game'?

"Because I am a believer that those of us involved in the game at the top level are guardians of the game. Will we give a better product to the guys that are coming through ? I don't know, to be honest."