Wilkinson return to Alred snubs RFU

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson is to employ the coach made redundant by England to fine-tune his world-renowned goal-kicking for a new year return to international rugby. Dave Alred will link up with his most famous pupil in January, with Wilkinson choosing to work with the man he calls "the best kicking coach in the world" rather than the coaches employed by the Rugby Football Union.

Alred lost his full-time job with the England team last April in an RFU cull which also removed fellow assistant coaches Phil Larder and Joe Lydon. The task of honing the country's top kickers is now shared across England's representative teams and the club-based academies by the National Academy coaches Jon Callard and Mark Mapletoft.

But both Wilkinson - who expects to be playing again during the Six Nations' Championship - and a potential England fly-half, Wasps' 19-year-old Danny Cipriani, prefer to see Alred under their own arrangements.

Callard has visited Wilkinson's club, Newcastle, on several occasions to coach the England internationals Jamie Noon, Mathew Tait and Toby Flood and youngsters Alex Tait and Tim Visser, working with each for up to an hour at a time. Wilkinson - even when fit - has chosen not to participate in those sessions.

England's kicking came under severe criticism during the November internationals. A total of nine misses from 22 shots at goal by Charlie Hodgson, Andy Goode and Flood compared unfavourably with 21 successful kicks out of 28 by the opposition.

And poor kicks out of hand by Mark Cueto, Josh Lewsey and Ben Cohen gave the initiative to South Africa in the First Test before a late try enabled England to escape with a 23-21 win. That prompted Wilkinson to voice his support of Alred. "I can't know whether Dave's absence is in any way related to England's kicking performance," he said on his website. "But I do know how good he was for me and how much confidence it gave me to know that I had the best kicking coach in the world working with me."

Friends of Alred have reported his anger at media coverage that described him as being sacked by the RFU. "Dave was not sacked," said a friend. "The position of kicking coach to the England team was made redundant. Dave was told there were reports which counted against him, but when he asked to see them, none were forthcoming."

Goode said he would continue using Alred if cost was not a factor. "People higher up than me made the decision," said Goode. "It would have been good to have carried on with Dave but my club would have had to pay and it wasn't feasible. I was very impressed with Jon Callard over the autumn. His drills are refreshing and his attention to detail is topnotch."

Alred is currently in Australia assisting Eddie Jones at the Queensland Reds. He maintains that his unique methods of preparation helped Wilkinson to his finest moment. "The dropped goal in the World Cup final was mis-hit and it was hit with arguably Jonny's weaker foot," Alred has said. "But there was a subconscious weight shift which was a theme of absolutely everything we did, and the ball went over. Had he [Wilkinson] sat back on his heel like 90 per cent of everyone else does, that ball would have missed."