JONNY WILKINSON is a self-confessed obsessive, so it should come as no surprise that his preparations for facing Jonathan Sexton in Saturday’s clash with Ireland at Twickenham began well before the Six Nations even started.
Yet what may be more of a surprise is that the man who has been marking Wilkinson’s card is Argentine legend Felipe Contepomi, Sexton’s former mentor.
Sexton was only yesterday handed the No.10 shirt by Declan Kidney for this weekend’s game with England, yet Wilkinson is not a man who likes to leave anything to chance. So it was that he spoke to Contepomi, the Argentine fly-half who spent three years grooming Sexton for stardom at Leinster before moving to join Wilkinson at French side Toulon, allowing the youngster his head.
While Wilkinson has his sympathies for Ronan O’Gara, the man Sexton has replaced, he has made it plain that he is wary of the danger posed by Sexton, especially after he calmly guided Leinster to Heineken Cup glory last season after Contepomi suffered a knee injury in the semi-final.
“I haven’t played against him but I’ve seen Sexton play and he’s obviously an enormous talent who has shown he can play well in the massive games,” said Wilkinson, who himself held off a challenge – albeit media-led – by Toby Flood to retain his fly-half spot.
“I’ve had a chat with Felipe Contepomi about him and he speaks very highly of him. There’s an enormous amount going for him. He’s clearly a very good player, and the competition and work he will have done with Ronan will be a massive aid, the fight for that position will have been enormous.
“I know Ronan well (from the 2001 and 2005 Lions tours) and he is a fantastic talent as well, he can pull teams apart by himself. I may have more sympathy for him because these things come about for reasons I’m not sure of. I guess I’m not surprised because these things happen and it doesn’t mean that Ronan is a bad player.
“I know he will still give his all and will want to play well when he’s given his chance – the selection (of Sexton) doesn’t change my view that it will still be a hell of a game.”
And there are other views on which Wilkinson is just as intransigent, such as the fact that he is not reaching his own high standards and can constantly improve. In fact, listening to Wilkinson talk about his own game is enough to sap the strength of even the cheeriest personality.
He added: “I am never satisfied with my game, my dissatisfaction remains undiminished. I will retire the game’s most dissatisfied player. Being dissatisfied makes me happy. Having said that, I am enjoying my career at the moment. The pressure on myself is always there, but I will aim to enjoy it on Saturday.”
He said: “You play for a team cause. If you took everything personally we’d all be quivering wrecks on the floor.
“You have to get on. You put everything into everything you do and that has to be enough. Give everything to every decision, every play to get the best result. You can’t ask for any more.
“Everything traces back to the number 10 because the call stops there. It doesn’t make for comfortable living all the time but the pressure I put myself under is more than enough, believe me.”
Full back Jack Wallace, prop Lee Imiolek and No.8 Alex Gray all come into the England starting line-up as their three changes for the RBS Under 20 6 Nations game against Ireland at Kingsholm on Fridey.
ENGLAND U20 (v Ireland): J Wallace; W Hurrell, J Joseph, T Casson, J May; F Burns, S Harrison; L Imiolek, J George, S Knight, D Wright, C Matthews, J Wray, J Rowan (capt), A Gray.
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