Wilkinson admits he may get the boot from England kicking duties

Struggling fly-half says Flood, who is picked ahead of Tindall at No 12, could be made penalty-taker against France but the decision will be made after final training session

Things have reached a pretty pass when England prepare for a World Cup quarter-final – against a deeply fractured but alarmingly dangerous French side at Eden Park tomorrow – with Jonny Wilkinson safely among their number, but with no clear idea of whether the finest goal-kicker of the modern age will be the man taking aim at the posts. Wilkinson will start the game, having recovered from the elbow injury he suffered during the second half of last weekend's narrow victory over Scotland, but with Toby Flood now installed alongside him, there is at least a possibility that the younger player will perform the marksmanship duties.

The England manager, Martin Johnson, treated his audience to a rendition of his time-honoured "you'll have to wait and see" line when pressed on the issue yesterday, but Wilkinson was more forthcoming, if less than decisive, on the subject of what might actually happen. "I think we'll make a decision after we visit Eden Park for the last team run," he said, thereby admitting that a discussion would indeed take place. "There have been times in my career when I haven't been the first-choice kicker: when I was a young player at Newcastle, it was Rob Andrew doing the job. And it's a bit of a myth that I want to take every kick on offer. I'm always willing to take them and always confident I'll get them, but it's not true that I insist on it."

Flood's selection ahead of Mike Tindall, which will be warmly welcomed by those who have long yearned to see some creative ambition in the No 12 position rather than the slow-motion thud and blunder associated with recent performers of the role, was a big talking point yesterday. Johnson took the enigmatic approach once again, refusing to say whether Tindall had been left out because of injury or dropped on form, although he did reject the notion that his World Cup-winning mucker from 2003 had been omitted as a result of the rash of scandal stories generated by his drunken antics in Queenstown last month. (Word from inside the camp suggested Tindall had been dumped on the wholly understandable grounds that Flood was playing the better rugby of the two).

There was also much discussion of the two changes in the pack, where the line-out specialist Tom Palmer and the ball-carrying No 8 Nick Easter were preferred to Courtney Lawes and James Haskell respectively. But it was the idea that Wilkinson's poor return from the kicking tee in this tournament – something less than a 50 per cent strike rate, compared with very high figures recorded by the two French half-backs, Dimitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra – might see him marginalised in this, the sphere of operations in which he has reigned supreme for so long, that really set the masses talking.

He accepted he had been a little too bold for his own good in some of his choices to date – "There was certainly one shot against the Scots that I shouldn't have taken on, and wouldn't if I had to make the decision again" – but denied that his problem was one of ego. "I think I've had that kicked out of me along the way," he said. "I've battled with the concept of ego on a spiritual level and, of course, in some ways, it's a great thing to have: it gives you your competitive nature and allows you to say 'I won't lay down; I won't be beaten.' It's what allows you to smash that big forward coming towards you, to get up when you've been hit. But ego can also be the worst thing in the world from a team perspective, and everything has to be for the team. When I was younger, I based my goals on numbers: I wanted the most of this, to be the best at that. That's the part of ego I don't have any more. Now, I concentrate on whether I'm helping by being around, whether I'm making a positive impact."

Les Bleus tend to fear the Wilkinson impact in whatever way it manifests itself: he did for them in the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup in Sydney by delivering his most controlled, complete performance of the tournament, and he made them suffer once more – in Paris, of all places – four years ago, again at the last-four stage. There is no X-factor about him as far as France are concerned, for they know him all too well.

Flood? He's a different story. The Leicester midfielder, who learnt much at Wilkinson's knee during their time together at Newcastle, does different things to either Tindall or Shontayne Hape, the other contenders for the No 12 spot. Indeed, it might be argued that the word "different" is redundant in this regard. The fact that he does anything at all in the attacking sense sets him apart from his rivals.

"One of my first community tasks when I joined Newcastle all those years ago was to do some coaching at King's School in Tynemouth," Wilkinson recalled. "Toby was in the lower sixth, I think, and it was obvious that he was the go-to guy in the school team, and a very good one at that. When he came to the club, he was completely in tune with the 15-man game we were trying to develop: enormously confident on the ball, a mover off both feet. Now he's with Leicester he's maturing, becoming more accountable – just getting better and better. The thing about his selection for this game is that no one's asking him to play like Mike or Shontayne. He's being asked to play like Toby Flood."

Johnson's move to this midfield arrangement is both sudden and late in the day, but is it in time? Flood is an exceptionally capable footballer, far more accomplished than his more aggressive critics like to let on, but against a French back division – the most potent division yet faced by England in this competition, by a country kilometre – it is asking a lot of him to make the seamless transition from outside-half to inside centre.

By comparison, the manager's other manoeuvrings – the introduction of Palmer and Easter, the enforced recall of Mark Cueto at left wing for the suspended Delon Armitage – are in no way a gamble. Palmer's presence will reinforce a line-out operation that missed a few beats against the Scots, who were aggressive in that department, while Easter's footballing instincts, allied to the quality of his work at close quarters, will be of benefit when it comes to preventing the French pack marching to the beat of their own drum. And while Armitage has been impressive in many ways over the last month, Cueto knows as much, if not more, about the nature of these contests than the rest of the threequarter line put together.

Interestingly, the Northampton wing Chris Ashton made no public appearance yesterday, seemingly on account of his involvement in the harassment of a hotel chambermaid in Dunedin at the start of the tournament. As a peace offering to those who would have liked a word with the leading try-scorer in the competition, the Rugby Football Union conducted an "interview" of its own and circulated the player's thoughts, such as they were, to the fourth estate. It was, it must be said, enough to give paranoia a bad name.

Wilkinson on...

Goal-kicking "It's a bit of a myth I always want to take every kick that's on offer. I'm always willing to take them and always confident I'll get them, but it's not true that I insist on it."

His ego "I've had that kicked out of me along the way. I've battled with the concept of ego on a spiritual level and in some ways, it's a great thing to have. But ego can also be the worst thing in the world from a team perspective"

Toby Flood "The thing about his selection for this game is that no one's asking him to play like Mike [Tindall] or Shontayne [Hape]. He's being asked to play like Toby Flood"

His kicking against Scotland "There was certainly one shot against the Scots that I shouldn't have taken on, and wouldn't if I had to make the decision again"

Wilkinson v Flood

Jonny Wilkinson has uncharacteristically struggled with the boot during this World Cup, with Toby Flood providing a much more reliable pair of feet during the pool matches.

Wilkinson/Flood

194 Minutes played 129

5/14 (36%) Penalties (100%) 1/1

4/6 (67%) Conversions (75%) 9/12

9/20 (45%) Shot success (77%) 10/13

1 Drop goals 0

26 Overall points 21

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss