James Lawton: Hodgson at risk from Wilkinson propaganda machine

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The Independent Online

The debate over the relative merits of Jonny Wilkinson, national icon, and Charlie Hodgson, a player of great subtlety and arresting possibilities, is, one has to suspect, being loaded up with arguments that are not entirely balanced... and a good deal less than impartial.

Now we are being told that Wilkinson has barnstormed his way back into the England outside-half position on the strength of his last-gasp winning intervention for his club, Newcastle, over Hodgson's Sale.

No one questions Wilkinson's nerve and power. We saw that vividly enough in the World Cup final in Sydney last November. But Hodgson has brought some different and extremely valuable qualities to the England cause in Wilkinson's absence through injury.

This, though, is being conceded extremely reluctantly in some quarters. Rob Andrew, the former England outside-half and Wilkinson's boss at Newcastle, scarcely takes the broader view you might expect of a senior rugby statesman and commentator. He declares, "It's quite simple in my mind. Hodgson is a very good player but Jonny is a great player. In my opinion, he completely outplayed Charlie."

Completely outplayed? Hodgson scored 19 points and produced some beautifully flighted passing as Sale took over much of the second half. Of course, Jonny did come marching home - in the fourth minute of extra time. It is something at which he excels, heaven knows, but is the England coach, Andy Robinson, entirely wrong to explore the greater creative possibilities of a man who has been so brusquely written off after one club match? It would be painful to think so.

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