Wilkinson gives England cause for real concern

Wasps 43 Newcastle 29

There is no point beating about the bush. If Jonny Wilkinson is 100 per cent fit in both mind and body - and there were times at the Causeway Stadium yesterday when he looked anything but - he is a long way out of form. High Wycombe? This was more like High Noon, with the new England captain left lying face down in the dust. Wilkinson required two lengthy periods of treatment, one of them for an injury that looked suspiciously of the neck and shoulder variety, and the iron defence on which he has constructed a good proportion of his unprecedented reputation appeared riddled with metal fatigue.

Andy Robinson, the acting head coach of England and a white-hot favourite to secure the job on a permanent basis later this week, insists the Newcastle outside-half is as good as new following the operation he underwent in the spring. In which case, steer well clear of the Robinson family's car boot sales. Wilkinson is producing his usual pearls with the boot, and his attacking footwork is far trickier than anything he attempted during the 2003 World Cup. But the physicality of his game - the very thing that set him apart from the great unwashed - has been diluted by years of pain and months of enforced inactivity.

Wilkinson talked afterwards of a "dead arm" that he had initially suffered some weeks previously, and which re-expired when it connected with Joe Worlsey's bullet head at a ruck towards the end of the third quarter.

He went on to say that the neck problems that forced him into corrective surgery had been resolved. "I get the occasional tingle," he admitted, "but at least I can move my neck around without suffering shooting pains. As far as my rugby is concerned, I'm fine. Honestly."

Entirely predictably, the Newcastle elders joined him in playing the reassurance card. Steve Black, the Falcons' conditioning coach, expressed the view that Wilkinson "enjoys these little cuddles" as the second bout of treatment continued in mid-pitch, while Rob Andrew, the director of rugby, dismissed any suggestion that his protégé might be caught in a downward spiral.

"He took a heavy blow on the right shoulder, certainly," Andrew conceded. "But people tend to take a whack or two at this level of rugby. We definitely have problems in terms of our team defence and there are major issues that need sorting, but I don't think you can lay everything at Jonny's door. The work he is doing in training astonishes us all, and he is slowly translating that work to the match situation. He needs game time, basically, and there are another four Premiership and Heineken Cup fixtures ahead of us before the first of this season's internationals. By that time, he'll be spot on."

Mmmm. Wilkinson butchered a straightforward scoring pass to Tom May in the opening couple of minutes of this match, thereby undermining the effect of his own 50-metre break. He spilled ball in contact - not once, but half a dozen times - and when Ayoola Erinle, an absolute bull of a Wasps midfielder, ran at his right shoulder deep in the final quarter, there was barely an attempt at a meaningful tackle. Wilkinson stayed on to the bitter end, but Newcastle would have lost nothing by introducing the gifted David Walder at his expense well before Erinle scored the home side's fifth and final try.

Even had Wilkinson been in his peerless pomp, he would have struggled to deny Wasps here. The Londoners reacted to a soft opening try from Epi Taione by creating clear-cut five-pointers through Richard Birkett, Tom Voyce and the magnificent Worsley, who disputed the man-of-the-match plaudits with his piratical back-row partner, Johnny O'Connor. Newcastle were handy enough when it came to the attacking phases, and they managed to keep themselves at the races with scores from Jamie Noon and Colin Charvis. But Wasps re-established their superiority with two further tries between the 63rd and 67th minutes before Michael Stephenson secured a bonus point for the Tynesiders.

It will be fascinating to see where Robinson plays Worsley in the autumn Tests, for play him he must. The big Londoner rather fancies the No 8 position, and despite the fact that a bloke called Dallaglio performs the role at Wasps, the England selectors might do themselves a favour by moving Worsley from the blind-side flank and giving him a place in the decision-making spine of the team. The try he bagged yesterday was a gimme, but his approach work for Voyce's score in the 27th minute smacked of serious quality and reinforced his claim - a claim almost amounting to a birthright, given Dallaglio's mentorship - to the white shirt he craves most passionately.

Wasps: Tries Birkett, Voyce, Worsley, Van Gisbergen, Erinle; Conversions Thrower 2, King; Penalties Thrower 2, King; Drop goal King. Newcastle: Tries Taione, Noon, Charvis, Stephenson; Conversions Wilkinson 3; Penalty Wilkinson.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; E Thrower, P Richards, R Hoadley (A Erinle, 49), T Voyce; A King (J Brooks, 28), M Dawson (H Biljon, 46); H Nwume (A McKenzie, 62), P Greening (T Leota, 62), T Payne, J Hart, R Birkett, J Worsley (M Lock, 70), L Dallaglio (capt; J Haskell, 70), J O'Connor.

Newcastle: M Burke; T May (M Tait, 38), J Noon, E Taione, M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (capt), H Charlton; M Ward (J Isaacson, 40), A Long, M Hurter (Ward, 63), L Gross (C Hamilton, 65), S Grimes, M McCarthy (E Williamson, 74), S Sititi, C Charvis.

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker