Cohen defends under-fire Wilkinson

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson is still the player he was at the 2003 World Cup according to Ben Cohen, his international colleague at the time.

Wilkinson's kicking game has been uncharacteristically poor in England's last two matches and the fly-half has been singled out for criticism as the team's RBS 6 Nations campaign has started to falter.

From chasing a Triple Crown and potential Grand Slam, last weekend's 20-16 defeat to Ireland at Twickenham has left Martin Johnson's side out of the reckoning, but Sale winger Cohen - who won the last of his 57 caps in 2006 - has dismissed talk that Wilkinson's form is the root of England's problems.

"Jonny is a fantastic player and a fantastic guy, but he hasn't really changed that much in his game from when we played for England early on and when we were involved in winning the World Cup," Cohen told Press Association Sport.

"I'm not saying he is a bad player, but he hasn't changed. People are saying he is a bad player now - okay, he could play a bit flatter to the line, but he is still a great player who puts in a lot of hard work off the pitch and plays to 100%.

"It's just how people see things now and it just makes me laugh that everyone can attack one person."

Wilkinson was revered for his role in England's World Cup triumph but Cohen believes the national team was made up of "leaders" back then - and is sadly lacking them now.

"England aren't the team they were," said Cohen.

"You had the likes of (Lawrence) Dallaglio, Matt Dawson, Will Greenwood - they are people in the side who were fantastic at making decisions and were leaders.

"It made Jonny's life a hell of a lot easier, especially with Dawson inside him and Greenwood outside him. It made my life a lot easier.

"Will Greenwood was generally the guy who ran the back-line. He was a key figure, along with a lot of other players in that team. Jason Robinson would tear it up and we would try and play off that.

"Will would always score tries and he was the brains behind the side. It doesn't mean that Jonny wasn't, but he had a lot of help and I think probably that is what is lacking - the people around him."

After an encouraging win over Wales, a disappointing victory in Italy and the narrow defeat to Ireland, England now face inhospitable trips to Scotland and leaders France, but Cohen feels the Six Nations title is still attainable.

"England have won two and lost one, and whether it's winning ugly or winning pretty, it's ultimately about winning," said the 31-year-old.

"I don't think they have been awesome but they have been winning games and that's what matters - it's something to build on.

"You've got to give credit to Ireland, they came over and stuck at it until the end. England nudged ahead and then with the last play, the last roll of the dice, Tommy Bowe steps up and scores a great try.

"If they had won that game it would have been a hell of a difference - you're not playing that great, but you're on for the Grand Slam.

"Have they got the ability and players (to win it)? Yes. But can they do it? I don't know."

:: Cohen was talking at the launch of the "Something to Chew On" healthy eating campaign for schools, a programme being delivered by all 12 Guinness Premiership rugby union clubs and run in partnership with the Manchester United Foundation.