Wilkinson not letting standards drop

Jonny Wilkinson will arrive in Paris on World Cup business on Monday, admitting he still “can’t bear the idea” of missing a kick.

The 2003 World Cup final matchwinner has played just seven times for England since his Sydney heroics ended a southern hemisphere monopoly on the Webb Ellis Trophy.

So the mere prospect of Wilkinson checking in at England’s Versailles training base will raise spirits among supporters desperate for the world champions to mount a meaningful title defence.

The Newcastle fly-half’s Test average of more than 15 points a game should at least help England fill their anticipated quarter-final slot.

And, whisper it quietly, but those fans could even see a more relaxed Wilkinson strutting his stuff during what England hope will be a seven-week tour of duty.

The long road back to fitness from repeated injury setbacks has been well chronicled and Wilkinson heads to France as still arguably England’s most valuable player.

Of the 33 Tests he has missed since November 2003, England can reflect on just 13 wins – further proof that when it comes to the big occasion, they struggle to cope without him.

Assessing the prospect of his third World Cup campaign, Wilkinson said: “I still need to do the preparation, I can’t bear the idea of missing a kick and not doing my best.

“But instead of getting angry on the training field, like I used to spend a lot of time doing and thinking something was working against me, I now see those misses as a very quick opportunity to learn a lesson and move forward.

“It doesn’t mean I stop being so intense and ambitious about each game, but it is not a case of saying ‘I have to go through pain to win this game or come out on top.’

“It is hard work, but it isn’t pain, it is good fun. The games are good fun. I have learned the two can go together.”

The England World Cup squad’s farewell dinner in London three days ago evoked memories for Wilkinson of those remarkable celebrations four years ago that peaked at Trafalgar Square.

And he admits there were subsequent occasions when he wondered if his succession of injury troubles had left permanent scarring.

He added: “On the way to the 02 Arena, we passed Trafalgar Square, and while I am terrible at recognising places in London, I realised where we were.

“I had a brief moment when I remembered that day. It was amazing how many people turned out, but it does seem like a long time ago.

“There were definitely times when, on the grand scale, I was worried about playing again and getting back to form again.

“I wasn’t ever worried about not making this World Cup squad. I always felt on a game-to-game basis and training to get back playing, I always felt if I had the opportunity I would give it my best shot and I would have nothing to worry about.

“But what did bother me was that I might not be back playing.

“I worried at times it was all over, or that I would be a bit impaired in terms of training, but I always had the World Cup as a target in my mind. I knew if I was playing, I could build towards it.

“If I had known at the (2003) World Cup where it was taking me (with the injuries and setbacks) I would have enjoyed the time more.

“If I had known where it was taking me, I would have stopped to smell the roses a bit along the way.

“It has definitely changed me as a person, and I am so glad it has.

“It has allowed me to understand a lot more about how I should really be experiencing this part of my life and enjoying it more.”

Wilkinson and his colleagues will fly to Paris on Monday lunchtime, then head for Versailles to continue preparations ahead of next Saturday’s Pool A opener against the United States in Lens.

England head coach Brian Ashton is due to announce his starting line-up for that game on Tuesday.

 

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