Jonathan Davies: Jonny's the best ever - and he will get even better

Jonny Wilkinson's biggest development has been the confidence to take responsibility for dictating the next move
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The Independent Online

When all the clamour about England's triumph dies down, if it ever does, Jonny Wilkinson will not be found resting on his laurels. He will be setting himself new goals, and I don't mean penalty goals.

While on that subject - how long before he kicks a penalty with his right foot? He has proved how good he is as a two-footed drop-goaler, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he showed he could clout over a place-kick with his right. With his usual throughness, he's probably been practising in case his left clog gets injured. It could be his next trick.

The point is that we have not seen the best of him yet. He will be already aiming for new achievements. I am sure he will want to win things with Newcastle Falcons and he will want to help England to continue their all-conquering run and improve his own game.

Last weekend saw the culmination of several years of hard work by the England squad under Clive Woodward, but it is not the end of their progress. Players are going to retire, not too quickly I hope, but as an entity England will be looking to move forward and Wilkinson will be at the head of that quest for improvement.

He needed that victory in Sydney and the personal part he played in it to answer vital questions about himself. Wilkinson's ability has hardly been a secret, but until you have done it on the biggest stage of all you don't know how good you are and what possibilities lie ahead.

What came through strongest to me in that game is that Jonny is now making the big decisions. He needed to be the general, to feel in control, and that's what he was in those fateful last minutes. Don't forget that he had missed three drops previously in that game. A few years ago, if he'd missed three he would not have gone for the fourth.

That's the measure of the difference in a player that I would now rate as technically the best outside-half the world has ever seen.

I don't want to be drawn into arguments about great No 10s from the past, because it is impossible to compare across the decades. Who knows what a fly-half from the 1950s like Cliff Morgan would have achieved if he had played in the present day? Everything has changed - the way the game is played, the ball, the pitches, professionalism, full-time training, fitness trainers, speciality coaches, nutritionists.... it's all a bit different from catching a bus to the ground on international match days.

But, as it stands, given all the advantages he has over outside-halves from previous years, Wilkinson has practically everything. All aspects of his kicking game are superb, he is an ace defender, a terrific tackler and keeps producing new dimensions to his game. A few years ago, there was talk about him playing at inside centre. My verdict then was that he didn't have the acceleration. He was certainly no slouch but in space he did not have an electric surge to hit the gaps.

But what he has been working on, probably inspired by Jason Robinson, is improving the quickness of his footwork. This has helped in setting himself up for drop goals and for assessing players who are in front of him and taking advantage of lumbering forwards.

But his biggest development has been the confidence to take responsibility for dictating the next move, to realise that you are the man to take control.

England's basic strength has been team-work, with every man busting his gut for everyone else. As important as that is, a team still need a split-second decision-maker and he proved in Sydney that this is what he has become.

As a fully paid-up member of the ancient outside-halves' association that's what I appreciate, that after all these changes to the game the No 10 is still the man to boss the show. I am delighted that Jonny has proved that point.

It was only a few weeks ago that he did a lot of public soul-searching after England's scare against Samoa. In that match neither he nor his half-back partner Matt Dawson controlled their patch. But they did against Australia. It was Dawson's thrust through that gained the extra yards that made that historic drop-kick that vital bit easier.

If there is a worry about Wilkinson it concerns his ability to cope with the distractions that will now crowd in on his personal life. He is a very nice boy and will want to answer all the claims on his time.

He needs strong people around him to help him preserve his private life. But I have no doubt about him keeping his feet on the ground.

And if he wants a break I would like to offer him a quiet weekend in Wales. He can do some tackle practice with my son Scott.