Wilkinson admits: 'I do spend too much time in the rucks'

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The Independent Online

Clive Woodward was there again yesterday. In denial, that is. "Jonny Wilkinson is getting stick in some quarters," he gasped, apparently staggered that anyone could begin to question the tactical prowess of England's outside-half. "I find it absolutely amazing. To me, he has been outstanding."

Each to their own and all that, but it takes some believing. Even Wilkinson acknowledges the existence of certain issues that require addressing. With a little prompting from scores of eager interrogators, he eventually said as much at the team base in Manly, where the distractions of sun and surf are so seductive that the England hierarchy are considering fining any player caught drawing back the curtains in his hotel room.

"I'm happy with the way I've prepared for matches and the way in which I've attacked the games," he commented when asked for a personal assessment. "As a team, we're proud that we've fought our way through to the semi-finals, even if we're not necessarily enjoying the way we're performing. I include myself in that."

But is the pressure getting to you, Jonny? "I don't read that sort of stuff. I know what I believe in my own mind, I analyse my own game and I deal with whatever pressure there may be in my own way."

Yes, yes. But the good Mr Woodward himself described you as an "outside-half who sometimes plays like a flanker". Can that be a good idea, considering most successful outside-halves play like outside-halves? "I do spend too much time in the rucks," he admitted, finally, "but it's an immediate reaction to what I see in front of me. I'm trying to become better at assessing whether or not I'm needed in there, but it's taking some time because it's not my natural instinct to back off."

Phew, at last. All is not absolutely well on Planet Wilkinson. It is understandable that Woodward should wish to construct a force field of positive energy around his goal-kicker, not least because he is England's primary source of points in a tournament otherwise distinguished by torrents of French and New Zealand tries. But after several days of open and honest discussion about every other problem affecting his side, it was increasingly ridiculous that the coach should refuse to go the extra mile and accept that the vice-captain is having a funny five minutes.

Wilkinson spent some quality kicking time at the Olympic Stadium yesterday, rediscovering the bearings he lost here in the final Test of the 2001 Lions tour. The venue is the largest in Australia - it holds 83,500 spectators - and the match will be played under some of the brightest lights in Christendom. "It is very important to get a complete perspective of the whole ground," he said.

Talking of departures, Austin Healey found himself on a London-bound flight after less than two days in Sydney. The Leicester utility back had been summoned as cover for Josh Lewsey and Iain Balshaw, both of whom missed the Wales game in Brisbane due to injury. Healey waited in hope for some 36 hours, but his rivals passed strenuous lunchtime fitness tests and were declared available for duty against France.