Jonathan Davies: Back to earth for Jonny

Thank goodness for Wilkinson, but the national hero needs to master control of a game
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The Independent Online

The new dawn went a bit dark at Twickenham yesterday and the great Jonny Wilkinson romantic comeback did not advance very far. But English fans should not overlook the major positive factor about his contribution.

His points won them the game and that is the main thing to remember about his play - the team might not perform well, and he might not be at his best, but he will win you the game. Had he not been there, banging over 15 points from distant penalties, Italy could have easily nicked a victory.

It was a strange game, with little shape about it. There was a lack of intensity and pace and Wilkinson was by no means the only player who couldn't get into it. But I was impressed with Andy Farrell, who often exchanged places with Wilkinson to become first receiver, with the No 10 outside him.

I don't know if this is how they intend their partnership to develop but the only promising England moves of the game came from it and there were a couple of inside balls from Farrell that created breakthroughs, even if they did come to nothing.

Wilkinson will not be as happy as he was last Saturday but it wasn't the same sort of open game that he enjoyed then. Italy made it very difficult for England, whose forwards could not dominate as they did against Scotland. Imagine what would have happened if Jonny had been kicking for Italy.

I wasn't at all surprised when Wilkinson took all the headlines after the match against the Scots. I thought the scrum-half Harry Ellis deserved the man of the match award more, but Jonny was the one under the most pressure and you couldn't have asked more of him.

He is a true international player. In fact, I would say that it was easier for him to play for England last week than it has been to play for Newcastle in the Guinness Premiership. He was playing behind a much stronger pack, and the great service he received from Ellis gave him extra time.

Give a player of that quality enough time and he will produce for you because his basic game is very solid. He tackles and kicks so well and as a percentage player his completion rate and skill factor is very high.

It didn't turn out like that yesterday but Ellis was not able to perform as well as the week before either. That is the type of uninspiring game it was.

Whatever the quality of the win, getting it was the main thing. Brian Ashton's men now have two weeks to get ready for Dublin and I am sure the lessons will be well learned. There is much gelling together to be done.

Wilkinson will not only benefit from having Ellis as his scrum-half, but from having Farrell outside him. Farrell can give him security and, as we saw yesterday, they are capable of creating a promising understanding.

Wilkinson will gain from spending a month in camp - he will have to with Ireland coming up at Croke Park - and I would like to see him taking more control of the game. He has his own game to get a grip of first but there is a need for him to boss the action. For all his strengths, he is not the best all-round outside-half in the world.

His kicking and his reading of the game is as good if not better than anyone but he is not as good a runner as New Zealand's Dan Carter or Stephen Larkham of Australia. They not only run better but are more elusive and Wilkinson will never be that sort of No 10. That said, it is very difficult to compare any outside-half because they are all different. The English outside-halves I played against were Les Cusworth, Stuart Barnes, Rob Andrew and Paul Grayson and Wilkinson is nothing like any of them. He is not a traditional No 10. He is a one-off and as such he would be coveted by any team.

But gaining control of a game, like Ireland's Ronan O'Gara does so well, is the one area he needs to master. You consider the strength of his character, his professionalism and the way he is dealt with severe injuries and you wonder why he doesn't impose himself more.

The England he has come back to no longer has players like Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Will Greenwood, so there is a vacancy for someone to take over the reins when things are going wrong. That is what I would like to see him do. Yesterday's game needed someone to take it by the scruff of the neck. That man should be Jonny Wilkinson.

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