Peter Bills: England must not start declining Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson kicked four penalties and dropped a goal to score all Toulon’s points in their 22-15 defeat by Stade Francais in Paris at the weekend.

A neat statistical factor mirrored by another – Wilkinson is easily the leading points scorer in all of French rugby this season with 150 points after 10 games, an average of 15. He has been in superb form with the boot to propel Toulon into fourth place of the French League Top 14.

And yet, and yet... if England are serious about expanding their game in anything like the same way countries such as New Zealand did this year in the Tri-Nations, there is no way on earth they should choose Wilkinson in their autumn internationals, certainly not in the starting role for the No.10 jersey.



The ‘new’ game which New Zealand will unleash upon England at Twickenham on November 6 is one of dynamism; pace, penetration and movement. It is forged upon rapid securing of the ball at the breakdown and a back line that is launched by a fly half offering myriad options; variety, speed and the ability to break, thereby keeping a defence reasonably honest.



Right now, Jonny Wilkinson is offering hardly any of those qualities, not even at club level never mind the international game.



It is seven long years since Jonny Wilkinson’s greatest triumph, his soaring drop goal winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup against Australia in Sydney. Those seven years, many of them ravaged by injuries, have changed Wilkinson as a player. Not as a goal kicker; he remains formidable, absolutely deadly. And the goal he dropped from way out, not far short of halfway, in Paris on Saturday evening was another soaring testimony to his enduring danger as a kicker, even if the ball did bounce on the crossbar before flopping wearily over.



But it is as an all-round player that Wilkinson has declined. Too often with ball in hand, his first action is to veer sideways, seeking moments of space and time to consider his options. The inherent notion of running straight at the defence is rarely considered. If neither a gap nor space for a kick is an option, then Wilkinson tends to hurl the pass.

Yet too often his delay has meant it becomes a hospital pass for the onrushing defence. Several times in Paris, Wilkinson’s colleagues received man and ball at the same moment....rarely an ideal scenario.



It has become a key requirement under these new law interpretations that the No. 10 receives the ball at pace, running forward and, hopefully, using quick feet to change an angle ever so slightly so as to elicit a gap or put others around him into some room. But because he isn’t really attacking the gain line more than once or twice in an entire game, Wilkinson is making it easier for the defence to drift.



He lacks the speed to threaten proper rupture of a defence, meaning that only those around him are likely to penetrate the rearguard. And then there is another problem.



The heavyweight runners from the opposition know well the history of the Englishman’s many injuries down the years. Increasingly, he is becoming a clear target for the opposition runners. Increasingly too, he is bouncing off the tackles he attempts to make on the big men, the heavyweight runners charging forward and seeking contact.



In England, seasons come and seasons go. The debate as to whether Leicester’s Toby Flood is really of true international class, continue. But I cannot see that England have any choice in their selection for the crucial No. 10 jersey to face the All Blacks on Saturday week.



Flood is much the quicker of the two men from a standing start and has an infinitely superior attacking game. Another factor in his favour is his half-back partnership with Ben Youngs, his club scrum half whom England seem sure to choose.



But the main reason England must go with Flood is that Wilkinson’s game is increasingly unsuited, indeed often alien to the entire philosophy of the new fast, attacking game offered by the law interpretations.



Jonny Wilkinson has been a marvellous, wonderfully successful and loyal servant of English rugby. He continues to offer endless courage and goal kicking consistency unmatched virtually anywhere, which demands his inclusion on the bench as a potentially key player in the final stages of a game.



But not from the start. No more.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory