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Wilkinson and Flood to hold private shoot-out

October 7th, 2011 by · No Comments · Features

• England pair to compete for first-choice kicker status
• Shoot-out to be staged in private at Eden Park

Toby Flood

Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood will stage a private shoot-out at Eden Park to decide who will be England’s first choice goal-kicker in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France.

For the first time in Wilkinson’s Test career he is no longer guaranteed to be the automatic first-choice marksman, offering a possible glimmer of hope to French fans wearily accustomed to his match-winning boot.

The England management have even taken the unusual step of switching the venue of their eve-of-game press conference from Eden Park to the team hotel on Friday to deter curious onlookers.

Flood, who features in the same starting XV as Wilkinson for the first time in 20 months, has a significantly better kicking percentage at this tournament having landed 10 successful kicks from 13 attempts compared with Wilkinson’s meagre return of nine from 20.

But as Wilkinson is just six points short of Dan Carter’s all-time Test points-scoring record of 1,250 points, it will still be a major surprise if he is not entrusted with the first kick at goal.

“Going into a game like this, I don’t think you’d want to be playing against Jonny Wilkinson,” stressed England’s team manager, Martin Johnson.

The Toulon fly-half insists, though, he will fully support any decision to hand the kicking duties over to Flood. “Toby and I will both be preparing as hard as we can and we’ll probably make that decision after we’ve been to the stadium,” said Wilkinson, who kicked France to defeat in successive World Cup semi-finals in 2003 and 2007.

“It’s safe to say Toby has knocked some great kicks over already, he’s looking good and he’s in fine form. We’ll see how he’s preparing and I’m preparing. I’m always confident. I’m never afraid to take them. There have been two kicks in this tournament I wouldn’t mind taking back but the rest I’ve been happy with. It’s important that whatever decision we make is for the team.”

Flood’s inclusion at inside-centre in place of Mike Tindall should also help spread the tactical load, with Wilkinson accepting he got slightly obsessed with trying to kick goals against Scotland after missing his first three efforts.

“There was definitely one in the second half against Scotland which I should have kicked to touch,” he said, admitting he had overruled his captain, Lewis Moody. “That’s a decison I would have made differently for sure and Lewis knows that. I know I’m capable of swaying Lewis if I’m a bit too quick to grab the ball and say: ‘This is on.’”

The last time Wilkinson was relegated to a second-string kicker on a consistent basis was during his early days at Newcastle when Rob Andrew held sway. He will, nevertheless, happily hand over the kicking tee if necessary.

“It’s something I’m perfectly happy with. I think I’ve had most of my ego knocked out of me along the way. The longer you play the longer you realise the whole thing is about the team. It’s a funny one. I’ve battled with that whole concept spiritually and physically, in terms of some of the feelings it comes with.”

Wilkinson has also had to overcome his distrust of the balls at this tournament, prompting England’s ill-fated attempt to smuggle his favourite ball on to the field in the first half against Romania. Two backroom staff, Dave Alred and Paul Stridgeon, were banned for one game by the Rugby Football Union as a punishment.

“You know you’re going to get booed every time you stand up to kick and you know that if you miss you are going to hear those voices that are probably saying something along the lines of ‘Oh he’s missed another one,’” said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson and Flood have only started together once during Johnson’s tenure, against Wales in February 2010. The vast majority of Flood’s 45 caps have been won at fly-half, but he finished the 2007 World Cup final at inside-centre and played the entire 2008 Six Nations in that position.

“It’s an exciting combination for us,” said Johnson said. “It’s not a gamble. You always put a lot of thought into your selections, no more so than when you’re in a World Cup quarter-final.”

On the kicking front, he believes Wilkinson will once again rise to the occasion. “Jonny has had a lot of long kicks. You look at kicking stats, a lot of his kicks have been from a long way out. He’s never flinched from having a shot.”

Wilkinson, however, acknowledges he will consider his Test future after the tournament. “For me the future of my career is dependent on me getting better, having an impact in whatever I’m doing. That’s a question you ask yourself because ultimately you have to ask it every day. Am I helping this team? Am I having a positive impact?

“If the answers to these things are yes then the enjoyment of the game is still there for me. As soon as I get the impression that that’s not so that’s when the enjoyment leaves and it’s time to go.” © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & ConditionsMore Feeds

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