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England are "more professional"

Published 10/06/2015

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is not worried about England discipline at the Rugby World Cup
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie is not worried about England discipline at the Rugby World Cup

Jonny Wilkinson believes England's current generation is more professional than his Rugby World Cup-winning squad, despite two players being jettisoned for on and off-field indiscretions ahead of the 2015 tournament.

Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie on Wednesday insisted England have no concerns over player discipline as Prince Harry lauded the values of the game.

"Rugby is a game built on values, respect, discipline," said the prince, as he launched the Rugby World Cup trophy tour at Twickenham with 100 days to go to the tournament.

Yet hosts England, whose 2011 tournament was beset by off-field scandal, have faced further disciplinary issues in recent weeks which have seen Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi and Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley ruled out of consideration by head coach Stuart Lancaster.

Wilkinson, though, says the way Lancaster's squad approaches every aspect of the game is superior to the 2003 team which won the World Cup courtesy of his memorable drop goal against Australia.

"It's more professional than we were," said Wilkinson, who was speaking at Twickenham, where England host Fiji in the World Cup opener on September 18.

"When you go into the squad, it looks as tight as you can possibly be."

Tuilagi will not be considered by Lancaster until January 2016 after being fined for two counts of assaulting a police officer, assault by beating and causing criminal damage.

Hartley was banned for four weeks for headbutting Saracens hooker Jamie George, who has replaced him in the squad.

Hartley has been hit with 54 weeks of sanctions in a career punctuated by indiscipline.

Wilkinson thinks both will feel they have let their team-mates down and relayed a story from 2002 to illustrate how important respect is for a rugby team, when he felt "destroyed" at being late for a team meeting.

"I remember sprinting across the hotel because I got my (prompt) sheet wrong and I was going to be late for a meeting," Wilkinson added.

"I've never run so fast in my life and it was not like the day just before the game. It was a Monday or a Tuesday."

Wilkinson did not make it in time and paused before knocking, not because he feared a ticking off.

"I just literally didn't want to be the one," he added.

"Now you talk about guys doing stuff on the field, guys looking after themselves. That comes in second.

"I was talking about just being late for one meeting. It destroyed me. It's just that respect level that you have."

Ritchie is adamant he has no concerns with England's discipline despite recent incidents.

Members of the 2011 squad which exited the World Cup in New Zealand in disgrace have been consulted.

Ritchie replied "yes" when asked if Martin Johnson, the 2003 World Cup-winning captain who was team manager four years ago, was among them.

Asked whether England's stance meant morals were valued above winning, Ritchie added: "I don't think you can afford to be prissy about it.

"You deal with each circumstance as it comes. I think the circumstances that have sadly come about I think Stuart's dealt with extremely well.

"I don't think it is endemic in any way shape or form. There is a good cohesive discipline about the squad as a whole.

"Once they get into camp on June 22 there will be a very clear mission. There is only one focus and that is to make sure we deliver on the pitch in the World Cup."

After the autumn series concluded with a narrow defeat of Australia and after finishing as RBS 6 Nations runners-up Lancaster was asked what would make a difference for England and on both occasions said simply "Manu", who was absent injured.

Wilkinson knows the destructive rugby-playing qualities of the 23-year-old Tuilagi well, but has backed England's present midfield to step into the void.

"It's going to be a miss, but you have to look at what the others have done in that midfield three at the moment," Wilkinson added.

"Guys are looking at them now and thinking 'jeez, they've got it together'.

"It just shows what that depth of talent can mean when suddenly one guy goes out."

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