Wilkinson shrugs off criticism

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson today shrugged off the critics and vowed to keep his cool in the face of mounting criticism.

England's iconic fly-half was named in an unchanged team for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations match against Ireland at Twickenham.

But, despite back-to-back victories, for the second week running England manager Martin Johnson was forced to launch a passionate defence of the number 10 who is world rugby's record points scorer, but whose decision-making ability has been questioned by former team-mates, including World Cup scrum-half partner Matt Dawson.

Johnson, who ignored a clamour to bring in Toby Flood at number 10, said: "I find the amount of criticism that has gone Jonny's way a bit surprising and disappointing. I think it has gone over the top."

Wilkinson, however, revealed he was dealing with the pressure in his usual fashion. Part intense and part philosophical.

He said: "You play for a team cause. If you took everything personally we'd all be quivering wrecks on the floor.

"You have to get on. You put everything into everything you do and that has to be enough. Give everything to every decision, every play to get the best result. You can't ask for any more.

"Everything traces back to the number 10 because the call stops there. It doesn't make for comfortable living all the time but the pressure I put myself under is more than enough, believe me."

Wilkinson slotted over a late drop goal to give England an unimpressive 17-12 victory against Italy in Rome, but uncharacteristically he missed three of six kicks at goal.

It is his ability to lead the three-quarter line and play running rugby, however, which is in question, elements of his game which Dawson criticised when he revealed it was himself, Will Greenwood and Lawrence Dallaglio who made the majority of the plays in the past.

Wilkinson, who made his England debut as a replacement at Twickenham against Ireland 12 years ago, insisted no-one is a sterner critic than himself.

He said: "I'm as unsatisfied as I've ever been (with my form). In every game I've ever played I've never been satisfied.

"I'm at the same level of dissatisfaction as I've been throughout my entire career.

"I will probably resign in however many years probably the most unsatisfied man in the world but I'm happy to go that way because it keeps me driving.

"I don't mind coming off the field saying I could have done that better. Give me long enough and I'd find 100 things for you.

"It seems to be about me with what's going on in the paper but it's not. It's about can we go forward and have a big performance at the weekend."

Johnson, nevertheless, is the critic who counts and he had no hesitation naming Wilkinson in front of Flood.

Johnson said: "We are lucky to have two players of that calibre in our squad. If Toby (Flood) had to play 10 we wouldn't miss a beat, but it is a bit simplistic to say Jonny is a kicking 10 and Toby is a running 10.

"Our failure to put some of those chances away (against Italy), was that because of Jonny Wilkinson? No, he is part of the team like everyone else is.

"Jonny does make decisions. He has played 75 Tests, I don't think there is an issue with that.

"I have a wry smile when I read some of those articles. I don't think I have to sit here and defend Jonny for what he has done in rugby."

And the former England captain, who lifted the Webb Ellis trophy in 2003, added with tongue in cheek: "I didn't make any decisions either, it was all Matt Dawson!"

The only changes to England's match 22 are among the replacements with the return of flanker Joe Worsley, who has recovered from a knee injury, in place of Steffon Armitage.

Hooker Lee Mears has replaced Steve Thompson and full-back Ben Foden returns in place of prop Matt Mullan as England revert to a four-three split on the bench.