Wilkinson 'enthusiastic' about Wellington show

Jonny Wilkinson has said he is 'enthusiastic' about this weekend's clash between England and the Wallabies in Melbourne on Saturday.

Jonny Wilkinson has said he is 'enthusiastic' about this weekend's clash between England and the Wallabies in Melbourne on Saturday.

The 24-year-old’s place-kicking may have been typically brilliant as he slotted four penalties and a drop goal to seal England’s win over the All Blacks last weekend, but in swirling winds and driving rain he struggled to impose his authority on the game.

Wilkinson’s mistakes were uncharacteristic but often meant England had difficulty in clearing their lines, succeeding only in inviting further pressure from the All Blacks.

Wilkinson admitted he had been hard on himself for a “disappointing” Wellington display, but the desire to make amends against Australia on Saturday helped shake that post-match hangover.

“I don’t think I did myself proud out there,” he said. “I did everything I could but on the day I didn’t perform. I made a few mistakes.

“Being involved in a decision-making position you take a lot of responsibility and accountability for the way the team plays as a whole, in attack especially. In an attacking sense that wasn’t one of our best games.

“You do beat yourself up for a few days, but then you start feeling very grateful for having another chance this weekend.

“At the moment I am a bit disappointed, but the over-riding factor is that I am enthusiastic about this weekend.”

Even without that added determination to make amends, Wilkinson has been Australia’s nemesis over the last three years, scoring 60 points in England’s three successive Test victories.

The Newcastle man’s contribution has been crucial, given the Wallabies outscored England by six tries to three in all three Cook Cup encounters, but lost them all.

Wilkinson was also first-choice fly-half for the Lions and scored 36 points in the three Tests against Australia, but his memories of the Telstra Dome will not be pleasant.

It was Wilkinson’s pass that was picked off by Joe Roff just after half-time and the subsequent try proved the turning point in the series.

In fact, Wilkinson has few good memories of playing in Australia at all.

His first start for England was in the 76-0 defeat in Brisbane on the doomed tour of 1998.

Clive Woodward described it as a low point for English rugby and much has been made of the manner in which England have developed over the last five years into the world’s number one side.

It has mirrored the rise of Wilkinson from the ashes of that record, humiliating defeat, particularly after he was written off as not being international class.

“Those poor players, as determined and proud as they are, are not Test players,” said Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill of the England squad after that infamous Brisbane match.

Wilkinson will take great delight in returning to Australia again, this time fully ensconced as the finest fly-half in the game today.

“It’s a memory I have got in my bank that I can go back to if I need to,” said Wilkinson.

“I often do. It made me realise, certainly for a few years after that tour, how hard I had to work to get into this arena of international rugby and how much I had to improve.

“I owe Australia a great deal for that. At that time they were so talented so it was good to see what it took and it did a great deal for my learning process.”

Teams for Australia v England in Melbourne on Saturday, June 21:

AUSTRALIA: C Latham; W Sailor, M Turinui, S Kefu, J Roff; N Grey, G Gregan (captain); B Young, J Paul, P Noriega, D Giffin, N Sharpe, D Lyons, P Waugh, T Kefu.

Replacements: B Cannon, B Darwin, D Vickerman, D Heenan, C Whitaker, M Rogers, L Tuqiri.

ENGLAND: J Lewsey; J Robinson, W Greenwood, M Tindall, B Cohen; J Wilkinson, K Bracken; T Woodman, S Thompson, P Vickery, M Johnson (captain), B Kay, R Hill, N Back, L Dallaglio.

Replacements: M Regan, J Leonard, S Borthwick, J Worsley, M Dawson, A King, D Luger.

Referee: D McHugh (Irl)

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