Wilkinson kicks himself but keeps faith despite misses

 

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The Independent Online

The last thing we ever expected England and Argentina to prove on the World Cup's second day was that goal-kicking can be overrated as a means of accumulating points. Though a drumskin-tight match appeared to cry out for nicking notches on the scoreboard whenever the chance came, the inaccuracy of Martin Rodriguez, Felipe Contepomi and most shockingly old Goldenboots, Jonny Wilkinson, made that numbers game an utter lottery. It was no point repeating the mocking Aussie refrain in the glory year of 2003 and asking England "Is that all you've got?" when they didn't even have that.

Any questions over the 32-year-old Wilkinson's right to the No 10 jersey for England had rested elsewhere in the past year or so, when he ceded it to Toby Flood. The Leicester fly-half held Martin Johnson's favour – despite all the manager's insistence that Wilkinson's world class was not in doubt – right up to the three August friendlies with which England tuned up for New Zealand.

When Wilkinson got the nod over Flood in Ireland two weekends ago and again for the Pool B opener against Argentina, it was both a reaffirmation of his unexpected longevitysince taking his injury-ravaged body to Toulon a couple of years ago, and Flood's waning as a first-choice force through the arduous run-in to Leicester losing last May's Premiership final, and then the summer Tests.

Now the debate will be opened again, in addition to the normal considerations for the matches against Georgia, Romania and Scotland of when to rest and rotate combinations. Some pundits' idea of Wilkinson and Flood in the same midfield seems a non-starter in Johnson's mind – the loss of Mike Tindall's defensive organisation or Manu Tuilagi's attacking edge would not be worth it. It looks always to be one or the other; there is no alternative No 10.

What emerged here of more interest for the battles ahead was the continued and absolute faith in Wilkinson to make the correct decisions in the face of his difficulty locating those magic white sticks an unprecedented five times in one Test, including a particularly straightforward chance in the 22 after half an hour.

Tindall, the captain, said: "You had to trust Wilko for the call. You alwaystrust the call to the kicker and especially when it [the kicker] is Jonny Wilkinson. He just couldn't get the control he's normally used to – and he said there were a couple of them he didn't want." Johnson said: "I spoke to him afterwards and said, 'Well done,' as he kept taking his shots. They [Argentina] missed some as well. Eventually he got us ahead."

Wilkinson's skipping approach to the gain line did not faze the Pumas and afterwards he did a passable Meryl Streep impression – not tearfully demanding a divorce but turning an apple over in his hands in method-actor fashion as he met the press. Otherwise he was his customary philosophical self.

"You kind of wonder how to correct something which didn't feel wrong. I missed a couple in the warm-ups and wondered why, but I was pretty happy with most of them before the match and during it. We've got another week to work on it and make it better. As a kicker you focus on what you're doing with the ball. I'm about ready to crush this apple at the moment. But the game is not just kicking. If you let one thing affectyou so everything else goes out the window you become useless."

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