Wilkinson aims to play off the cuff

England's under-fire No 10 promises new instinctive approach at Murrayfield

When Jonny Wilkinson, a player for whom the rugby "game plan" might have been invented, starts talking about playing more instinctively, it is time for England to start worrying. The World Cup-winning outside-half – nice boot, shame about the decision-making – has tacitly confessed to the shortcomings that have earned him a reputation as the most robotic of international playmakers, but it may be that his coaches would prefer him not to start experimenting this weekend. Not at Murrayfield, of all places in Christendom.

The last time Wilkinson appeared in Edinburgh in 2008, he played like a drain and was promptly dropped as a consequence. "The most painful lessons are often the most powerful and for me that is definitely the case," he said after holding off the increasingly hostile challenge of Toby Flood and retaining his place in Martin Johnson's line-up.

No arguing with him there. However, he then went on to say the following: "It was a big experience and it did me the world of good. It taught me that we need to go out and play, that we can't expect to just build a game solely from what we've planned on paper." As he has spent much of the last four and a half months flying directly in the face of that sporting truism, it must be assumed that Johnson and company know about as much as the rest of us on the subject of how Wilkinson will confront his demons on Saturday evening.

They must surely be concerned. Accused by his more vehement critics, some of whom played alongside him in the glory years of the Clive Woodward regime, of being unable to function without a clear set of instructions, Wilkinson has hardly come out fighting in self-defence. "They must see it to say it, or have a reason for saying it," he responded with a shrug. And when asked about his misfiring midfield partnership with the centre Riki Flutey, who barely featured in the defeat by Ireland 12 days ago, he admitted: "We missed some chances in that game, but didn't realise it until we watched the video. Maybe I'm a bit tied in to what I'm doing."

If these were the words of an honest man struggling to rediscover some certainty, they were not the words of a confident one. Outplayed by the exceptional new Irish outside-half Jonathan Sexton, he must now return to the scene of his most dramatic fall from grace for a must-win contest with a team prepared by one of the coaches who best understands him: Andy Robinson, under whom he worked with both England and the Lions. "Andy coaches the way he played," Wilkinson said. "There is no façade. As a player, he was physical, intense, skilful and mixed it every time he went out on the pitch. As a coach he does exactly the same thing, but now he is able to impart a huge amount of rugby brainpower and experience. It means we must go to Murrayfield with a level of inner strength that will enable us to deal with everything we face, on and off the field."

France, hot favourites to beat Italy in Paris on Sunday and set themselves up for a Grand Slam shot against England, have made two changes to the back division that started the victory over Wales in round three. Marc Andreu, the Castres wing, replaces Julien Malzieu of Clermont Auvergne while the experienced Perpignan centre David Marty gets a run ahead of the Stade Français powerhouse Mathieu Bastareaud, who drops to the bench.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • 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

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk