Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Six Nations: Wilkinson can sense spirit of 2003 in Grand Slam chasers

Jonny Wilkinson believes Grand Slam-chasing England are beginning to show all the hallmarks of the team that conquered the world in 2003.

England's current vintage took a giant step towards their first RBS 6 Nations clean sweep since that era of Red Rose dominance with a 17-9 victory over France.

Martin Johnson, England's captain in 2003 and now the team manager, will not countenance any Grand Slam talk, not with Scotland and Ireland still lying in wait.

But the last time England were unbeaten three games into the championship was in 2003 — and Wilkinson senses a similar momentum building in the current squad.

“What we are doing here is based on good values and a good foundation and that does remind me of 2003,” Wilkinson said.

“Not in a romantic ‘we are in exactly the same place’ way. This is a different environment because rugby has moved on.

“In rugby you can't just build a team straight away. You build a spirit, you build that togetherness, you build understanding and you build momentum.

“In 2003 something very, very solid was put in place and time was taken through attention to detail to develop it, to stick with it, to give guys an opportunity and continue to move on.

“That team lost Grand Slam deciders but they didn't stop us from improving.

“This team has done a lot of learning along the way. You can gather momentum, whether you are winning or not, and it can have a snowball effect.

“Each game we have played so far in the Six Nations and in the autumn has called upon something different from the team.

“Maybe once or twice you are found wanting but a lot of the time the guys have been able to find whatever it is that has been needed to win.”

England steadied themselves after a rocky first half and ground the French down in a ferocious encounter.

Ben Foden scored the only try of the game, Toby Flood kicked nine points and Wilkinson came off the bench to land a penalty which, crucially, pushed England two scores clear.

Wilkinson’s first act was to bang over a 46-metre penalty which not only pushed England clear but saw him regain the world points-scoring record from Dan Carter.

“It is maybe the first time in my career I have been aware of the situation — and that was only because someone told me in the week,” said Wilkinson, who now has 1,190 Test points for England and the Lions. “I did wonder if I would get a penalty today if I came on — and it came up first thing.”

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