Belfast Telegraph

The ball's in your hands Jonny ...

Wilkinson can be England's hero again

By Gavin Mairs

The man on whose shoulders rest England's hopes of becoming the first nation to ever retain their World Cup crown said today that beating South Africa in tomorrow night's final would be the best thing he has ever done in life.

Over 50,000 England supporters continued to flood into the French capital today ahead of the hugely-anticipated final showdown at the Stade de France, all hoping that Jonny Wilkinson can repeat his kicking heroics that brought Sir Clive Woodward's side over the line against Australia in 2003.

The Springboks are massive favourites, having thumped Brian Ashton's side 36-0 in the pool stages. But England have turned form on its head in the knock-out stages, reeling off momentous victories over Australia and hosts France - with Wilkinson's kicking landing the killer blows.

And Wilkinson, now the leading points scorer in World Cup history with a total of 243 and famed for his obsessive devotion to practice, revealed the intensity of England's desire to retain the Webb Ellis Cup was beyond anything he had ever experienced.

"If you spend a bit of time inside the camp you would see how much this game means to everyone," said the 28-year-old.

"When the final whistle went on Saturday (in the semi-final victory over France) everyone's minds turned to this game (the final) and that's the players, the coaching staff, the medical staff.

"If you could understand the intensity - there is nothing more important than this game. We will do everything to try and win it.

"I think we've remained consistent and very honest in the fact that the expectation levels have remained exactly the same.

"I was asked before the tournament if I thought it was silly that we would do well in this tournament. I thought the guys would do well and if we played at the best of our game we could do well."

Wilkinson's kicking averages out here however have been significantly down on his success ratio in 2003, currently around 65 per cent.

But such is his mental fortitude that it doesn't bother him. When the heat is on there is no other man in world rugby you would want to line up a kick to win a World Cup.

"I've been asked this before. It's a goal-kickers thing. To grasp it you have to understand that world. You go out there to do a job.

" My job is to try and convert as many as possible so you can get your team on the right side of the score line," he added. "You take each one as best you can. Some days you get a fair few and then some days you get just a few.

"The stats tell you the end result, but in my head what's important is continuing to fight through the game and coming out on the right side of the score line."

The key for England's success, according to Martin Johnson, who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup four years ago, is staying close until the final quarter to give Wilkinson a chance to win it.

"We have to battle in every area of the game, like you do in every big game - line-out, scrum, kick offs, rucks and mauls," said Johnson.

"If you can get those two or three turnovers in each of those phases they all add up.

"Tackling and defence has to be very good, everything has to be of the top draw. There will be mistakes on both sides, you have to recover from those, not compound errors and stay in the match. We need to stay in the game until the last 10 minutes.

"We can do it, we really can, but we have got to do all those things I talked about."

Belfast Telegraph


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