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England's double trouble

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Ben Dirs | 23:57 UK time, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

You might think someone who has scored more points in Test matches than anyone else in history and was responsible for the winning kick in a World Cup final can afford to be generous. But even Toby Flood appeared slightly awkward as praise was heaped upon him by the man he replaced as England's first-choice number 10.

"Look at it results-wise and flow-wise in the England team," said Jonny Wilkinson. "The relationship Floody has created between him and the others, the way they work and the way they link, it's something that wasn't quite there when I was playing."

At which point Flood felt the need to step in, perhaps a touch embarrassed to see his former mentor doing himself down in this way. "That relationship evolved because of a change of direction in the team, it certainly wasn't down to any individuals," said Flood.

"For me, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. The team has changed, in terms of its perception, in terms of the way it thinks and behaves on the field, because of the way we are off it as a unit."

When Flood talks of being in the right place at the right time, he is referring to last year's 15-15 Six Nations stalemate at Murrayfield, what is now considered to be a watershed moment in the reign of England manager Martin Johnson. It wasn't so much the result, more the dismal nature of the game that forced Johnson's hand.

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Against France in the final game of the championship, Flood started at fly-half and Wilkinson was dropped to the bench. In addition, Ben Foden replaced the malfunctioning Delon Armitage at full-back and the irrepressible Chris Ashton took over from Ugo Monye on the wing. England could not prevent the French from sealing a Grand Slam but they came mighty close, suggesting the team had taken a big step in the right direction.

On England's summer tour to Australia, more tweaks were made, with live-wire scrum-half Ben Youngs and athletic lock Courtney Lawes exemplifying Johnson's new-look side. And as Flood intimated at Wednesday's news conference - and others have admitted previously - the squad also benefited greatly from a less stringent off-field regime, as well as consistency of selection.

One year on from that bore-fest in Edinburgh, England will play Scotland at Twickenham on Sunday knowing victory will leave them one win away from their first Grand Slam since 2003. Wilkinson will again start on the bench - not that he seems to mind. The once tortured superstar of English rugby is getting philosophical, as well as loquacious, in his (relative) old age.

"This time last year, I'd started going in a direction I didn't want to go in and certainly wasn't enjoying," admitted Wilkinson, still only 31. "Sometimes you've got to fight for what you want to achieve but other times that fighting becomes almost stupid.

"The signs were I needed a break to reassess and see things from a different angle. [Being dropped] gave me the opportunity to do that: 'How do I look at rugby from this point of view? What more can it bring out of me?' When I look back at that time, at me now compared to then, those things arrived when I needed them.

"You can want all the things in the world but it's no fun unless you don't deserve it or earn it. Floody came in and played exceptionally well - he earned it - and I'm enjoying the process of getting back on that route. It was unfair for me to play that entire Six Nations the way Floody was playing. He finished it off and showed what he can do."

While Flood is currently England's main man at 10, to hear Wilkinson talk of him in such terms must be humbling. Old team-mates at Newcastle, Flood broke into the Falcons side when Wilkinson was already arguably the premier fly-half in world rugby. Flood paid attention to the master and what Wilkinson calls a "synergistic relationship" developed.

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"He was peerless at the time, different to anything else that was going on," said Flood, six years Wilkinson's junior. "It was the work ethic that stood out. It made me realise what he was prepared to go through to achieve what he wanted to do. It was a huge help playing with Jonny. It still is to this day. Hopefully we give a huge amount to the England team and to each other."

England's midfield remains an area for debate. There are those who believe Flood and Wilkinson would be the ideal pairing at stand-off and inside-centre respectively. Intriguingly, it is an idea neither man dismissed out of hand.

"We played a lot of rugby together at Newcastle - and the way Newcastle played meant whatever number you had on your back, it very quickly became irrelevant," said Wilkinson, now in France with Toulon. "We pushed ourselves hard to make sure we had every skill that was needed."

Added Flood, now of Leicester: "There's no reason why it couldn't be Jonny and Shontayne Hape starting, with me on the bench, or Jonny and I starting, with Shontayne on the bench - whatever combination best allows us to attack the opposition."

But if Johnson does decide to stick with Hape and Mike Tindall in the centres, as is likely, Wilkinson will continue to enjoy the view from the sidelines.

"I've been privileged to see [Flood's progress] from day one," said Wilkinson. "I'm desperate to see the best of what he can do, for his own sake and for England's sake. It's also telling me I need to raise my own game. Far from animosity, it's a case of getting the best out of each other."

It was around this time the RFU's media man stepped in and indicated that Flood and Wilkinson were 15 minutes late for training. I can report that England's synergistic duo didn't exactly step to it. Indeed, their indifference spoke volumes: "What's Johnno gonna do about it, drop us?"

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  • Comment number 1.

    Great Article, thanks! It's brilliant to have to both of these fly-halfs in the team, both playing great rugby. Their attitude towards each other and the sport in general is humbling and a great example for all sportsmen to follow.

    Also wanted to say hi to my bare deep roomie Jet Lee! I'm first again my friend!

  • Comment number 2.

    Great attitude from Wilkinson to being on the bench and putting the team first, the likes of Drogba could learn from him.

  • Comment number 3.

    P.S. Think Koshy when you read the words "my friend"! "HELLO my friend! Would you like 5 euro?"

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting read!! And as smellslikesalmon says, Johnny shows a remarkable attitude to his game and the development of the England team. It can only be good for England to have these two working so hard with and for eachother!!

    Ben, what's your opinion on the English midfield? Do you think that maybe Johnny could partner Floody there? And if he does, what say you to having Alex Goode on the bench? He offers alot of positional cover, and has been playing out of his skin recently!


  • Comment number 5.

    I wouldn't be too happy with TF and JW filling the 10 - 12 channel for the majority of a game. Although we would have better service and creativity to our outside backs, I still feel that Hape & Tindell offer some hardnoised straight lines, which TF & JW wouldn't offer as much.

    Will Greenwood; why couldn't you be younger and still available???

  • Comment number 6.

    The idea of Wilko joining the midfield is intriguing (and was actually chatted about last year as well by a few observers). It goes without saying that we would lose nothing defensively. What is often not noted about Jonny though, is that he does actually have the capacity to be a very creative player.

    His role in the England pre-2003 set-up was characterised by the fact that he allowed a great side to play to their strengths: A formidable pack, excellent finishers, top-class understanding between all departments and, obviously, Jonny's right and left boots. He never needed to do more than he did. Post 2003, he was playing (that's when he actually was playing) in a very different side. One in which he did not have the players - or set-up - around him to play anything other than a limited game: link, tackle, kick etc.

    My point is that Jonny is a creative player, at least he definitely does have the capacity to be one. In one England side, his creativity was rarely needed, in the other he simply didn't have the chance. If you look at his performances as Woodward's aside was taking shape - the years when we were just missing out on Grand-Slams - he was a genuinely creative and unpredictable fly-half when the situation demanded it. Games against Wales at the Millenium Stadium and Ireland at Twickenham stand out in my memory. Have seen a couple of his performances in France this season and last and they have confirmed this impression.

    I'm not arguing it is the way forward, I just think that its an idea that is worth exploring pre-WC. He maybe lacks Hape's pace, but he has greater defensive ability than either of the current pairing, equally good hands and equally good vision. And, obviously, his boot can still be lethal. Interesting to hear both him and Flood talk about their playing relationship as well.

    Either way, cheers for the blog. Good read.

  • Comment number 7.

    Where are the 'not another English blog' comments?!?!?1

    Good job Dirsy. Can't wait for Sunday!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Ahhh no! not another English blog, you anglo-saxons dominate us little welsh types and steel all our water and sheep, its not fair

  • Comment number 9.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think the idea of having Wilkinson at 12 would have mixed results. I mean there is a chance that we would lose some of our attacking flair but then again it would perhaps shore up the midfield. Hape has hardly been playing out of his skin and perhaps just trying Wilkinson at 12 would be beneficial.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good blog, would be interested to see them in the same team, perhaps as a try out pre world cup?

    Pretty sure Dan Carter is the leading points scorer in test history though!? He got the record against Wales in the autumn - I was there.

  • Comment number 12.

    Maynards..... the record changes hands when people (JW and DC) score points! When the ABs aint playing JW gets a chance to retake the record, then DC will take it back again.... until one of 'em retires or can't get the 10 jersey off Toby Flood!

  • Comment number 13.

    This is no more than a contrived and deliberate attempt by the media to prise the IC shirt off Hape and place it in the hands of a player who most union people still adore like a demi-god. So Hape's the league convert and NZ who they can't warm to and Wilkinson's the union/English player they're still in love with.

    Forget the needs to the team and its balance, just as long as Wilkinson's on the pitch appears to be the driving force of this BBC inspired pro-union, anti-league article.

    I have seen so many of these articles in the last 4 weeks calling for the head of Hape (not Tindall just Hape as though Tindall's world class which he isn't). The reasoning being he's a league-convert so still doesn't appreciate defensive positioning which is absolute nonsense when you look at the facts and his personal defensive record in the 6N's.

    It's an article from someone who's still obsessed with Wilkinson like a long lost lover they simply cannot let go of..

    Hape and Tindall are the centres of choice because they work and provide the platform for Cueto, Ashton and Foden. It works well so dont change it just because Wilkinson has a nice smile

  • Comment number 14.

    11. At 1:12pm on 10 Mar 2011, MaynardsWinegum wrote:
    Good blog, would be interested to see them in the same team, perhaps as a try out pre world cup?

    Pretty sure Dan Carter is the leading points scorer in test history though!? He got the record against Wales in the autumn - I was there.

    he took it against France with his first kick, which happened to almost be at the halfway line

  • Comment number 15.

    wilkinson was never the best fly half in the world, he wasn;t he's never been the best in England even,, he has/ had the best boot end of. The David Beckham of rugby. great boot couldn't side step my granny or run past anyone..

  • Comment number 16.

    At #15 karlwbrown....if that is the case, who would you put forward as the best fly half in England between 2001 and 2005.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have never believed in players occupying different positions in internationals from those where they regularly play. Players have to have the instincts and speed of thought which come from regularly playing in the same position. England should just count themselves very fortunate to have 2 such great, and different, no.10s and to be able to follow the present game plan of bringing on Jonny for the final 20 minutes or so.

    Just imagine how the French team must have felt when we introduced our replacement fly-half, and Jonny ran out to the roars of an adoring crowd to kick a crucial penalty from halfway with his very first act of involvement.

  • Comment number 18.

    13. famousimpressario: This is an article on the England Rugby Union team. To accuse it of being 'pro-union' is thus, frankly, rather bizarre. I've got nothing against League, some people seem to enjoy it anyway, but can't quite understand why articles on Union in the UK media invariably attract chippy and bitter comments from League supporters.

    Far convincing anyone of the 'superiority' of league these comments, if anything, put me off the sport.

  • Comment number 19.

    To all those suggesting starting TF and JW at 10 & 12 - No!! Successful rugby teams are based on playing players in their correct positions. Both of them are No 10s plain and simple. You pick the best to start (TF at the moment) and the other on the bench. It is useful that they can cover in an emergency 12 but it is not their position. I would suggest howeve that JW must be the best No 21 in the world at the moment.
    I also have reservations of Hape and Tindall but they're probably the best overall we have currently. I think Johnno would be tempted to play Banahan at 13 but that would leave us with only Cueto really as a kicking option other than Flood which is a little dicey. Further down the road Tuilangi looks a very good prospect, whether this in time for World Cup only time will tell.

  • Comment number 20.

    At # 16 - Andy Goode of course, do you know nothing about rugby ?

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh sorry I completely forgot about the great Andy Goode who could side step his way through the whole pension queue at the post office!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    i take it the andy goode comment was a joke!!

    in france wilkinson as been widely regarded as the best fly half in their premier league this season all too easy to knock him, but he is a fly half note a center, and till Flood cocks up its his shirt to loose

  • Comment number 23.

    "What's Johnno gonna do about it, drop us?"

    I think this line has ruined a great article, after listening to team for the last month I very much doubt anyone in the England squad has this attitude, especially after Johnno has shown he will drop the big names if they don't play, hence Wilkinson warms the bench.....

  • Comment number 24.

    Oli at #21.

    You have as good an eye for sarcasm as you have for a great fly-half. Did you not detect a touch of irony in Steak and Ale Pie nominating Andy Goode as the best fly-half in England

  • Comment number 25.

    On a serious note...I have to agree that Wilkinson at IC is a bit of a square peg, round hole solution.

    With regards to Hape it seems that possession is 9 tenths of the law and until he makes glaring mistakes or some one steals the shirt from him, he is here to stay.

    As mentioned the only player who looks like doing that currently is Manu. I personally would of liked to have seen him in the training squad this week. So he could've got a feel for the international scene, even if he wasn't going to be on the bench.

  • Comment number 26.

    Of course I did I was joking.

  • Comment number 27.

    If Manu played for England against Samoa he might then be playing against his brother Alex. Would this be a first in rugby at international level ?

  • Comment number 28.

    I think Wilkinson, currently in most situations with Flood fit, offers more to the team from the bench than he does in the centers. I don't think he has the pace required to benefit the game England seem to want to play. But having him on the bench is a huge plus , it seems obvious that his commitment and attitude is a major plus in training and preparation but also in the hopefully unlikely situation of Flood getting injured during a game, I can't think of a player that fills the crowd and the England team with more confidence and the opposition with more trepidation when he steps onto the pitch to close out a game. In a pressure situation I don't think there is anyone in the rugby world ( Celts, Kiwis and Aussies alike) that if their life depended on someone putting a kick over to win a game who wouldn't have Jonny in their top 2 choices.

  • Comment number 29.

    It shows you how much the French rate Jonny. The cheese seller at the local saturday market groaned when I arrived to pick up my winnings (1 kg of mature Comte cheese!) last week. He said all would be different if the French team could "naturalise le Jonny". He's an icon down in Toulon who, whilst they are a bit like Man City in being big spenders, have had a good season and played open rugby (Biarritz please note). Elsewhere in france he's more than respected. Can't be many English fly halves who've been that.

  • Comment number 30.

    Steak and Ale Pie at #27

    According to Wikipaedia Stephen (Manu Samoa) and Graeme (Japan) Bachop played against each other twice in 1999. And in 1994 they had played together for New Zealand.

    You might think this something of a comment on international representation criteria.

  • Comment number 31.

    Lets be honest, right now there is no way that Johnson should change the back line around. As a set rule u don't change a formula that seems to putting out good performance after good performance.

    I think England has some great players coming up such as Manu Tuilangi and Alex Goode. We have some great young players in the squad like youngs, Lawes and Ashton (notice saints contribution). But it is clear that if you could point to an area of weakness in England it would be the centres. They do there job but no more than that. You have to ask the question whether there are any players in the centre that could just add a little bit more to the team.

  • Comment number 32.

    Rogwin – hats off to some excellent research. Around this time players seemed to be able to swap from Samoa to New Zealand and back again (I think the great All Black Michael Jones played for Samoa aswell around this time).
    Rodgersaints – I think you are correct and highlighting some of the strength in depth that England now possess. If you think of most positions not only do you think our starter is of good quality but you can also name a more than adequate replacement. Notable exception as you point out is at 12 & 13. I would also add 8 as a concern. Easter has established himself as an effective international 8 but I’m not sure who the best replacement would be as I’m still to be convinced by the oft repeated alternatives – Dowson, Narraway and Crane (as a Saints fan I am sure you disagree with me though.)

  • Comment number 33.

    Never read a blog before but was a great read. I love johnny wilkinson and love the idea of him at 12 but that would be me speaking with my heart. I certainly agree that he is a fantastic person to be on the bench, he still scares sides and gets the crowd exited. Also love the comment 'what's johnno guna do about it? Drop us?', it just shows there's great comoradary in the dressing room and the lads are getting on and enjoying themselves. Which is where games of rugby can be won.

    As for the midfield I do believe hape and tindall are doing a job for us to get the back 3 and of course Toby some good quick ball. However compare them to sonny bill and smith I think we have to be looking for something else, to move a on and be more creative. Riki f is not out of it yet, he has that creative flair and solid defence, did you see the try he set up for Williams co the lions? Genius. Tuilagi I think is definetly the man fo he future even the world cup and am would be surprised if johnno wash looking at him for the world cup. I think that would be an ideal partnership riki and Manu.........I think

  • Comment number 34.

    I can share famousimpressario's suspicions re the perceived failure by Shontayne Hape at inside centre. I have watched all the internationals Hap has played in and I find it strange he is always the person picked out as the weak link. Correct me if I am wrong but was he not "man of the match" in one of the Autumn internationals?

    I just wonder if there is not some anti-League bias by some of the pundits and posters on these pages. However Hape will be superceded soon, as will Tindall, so new up and coming players such as Tuilagi need to be blooded in time for the World Cup.

  • Comment number 35.

    Famousimpressario wrote "It's an article from someone who's still obsessed with Wilkinson like a long lost lover they simply cannot let go of.."

    Not only the writer impressario, but most of the rugby watching public in England. If you watch the interview with Floody embedded in the blog it is actually painful viewing- a six minute interview with five and a half minutes of "what do you think when Jonny says this?, what will happen if Jonny does that?" etc etc and thirty seconds of Scotland at the end.

    I have to say that in his prime (2002 by the way and not the 2003 world cup) Jonny was not just a goal kicker but a great all round player as anyone who saw his try against New Zealand at Twickenham in 2002 and his performance against Ireland in 2003 will attest. But since his injuries he has not been the same player and since going to Toulon is only just starting to look like the player he was nearly nine years ago.

    The making of Toby Flood was when he signed for Leicester. At Newcastle he was criticised for drifting in and out of games, but he has bought into the Leicester way of mental strength 100% and it has made him a much better player. The most impressive thing for me about Toby Flood is the mental strength he possesses to deal with the pressure of "not being Jonny" and simply getting on with it. It is something that made Charlie Hodgson turn to custard every time he put on an Engalnd jersey, but Floody seems to be impervious to it.

    Stick with the team as it is please Johnno- If it aint broke, don't fix it!

  • Comment number 36.

    Snappy bit of research concerning the Bachop boys, rogwin, and as steak and ale says Michael Jones was Samoan before playing for NZ and then returning to Samoa. My first thought was of the MacDonald brothers in the '70s - Donald played for Scotland while his brother Dugald played for SA. (inc against the Lions). I am not sure if they ever played against each other though. This merry go round of internation registration does not seem right to me though; I wonder how good the South Sea island teams could be if they could keep all their players. Also of course Brian Smith has rugby passports in gold, green and white!

  • Comment number 37.

    Well Stake and Ale Pie I had not thought about the number 8 situation but i believe you are right. Although have to say that all the players that you suggested are not quite up to the standard. I would have agreed on having Dowson in last season as he was having the season of his life but currently I just can't see him up for it. Crane would be the best choice out of those 3 but we just can't have another Tigers player in there.

  • Comment number 38.

    It seems to me that the you only ever hear 'league people' complaining about Union and never hear 'Union people' complaining about league.

    Why is this i wonder? i could be inflammatory and say that its obviously down to the fact that league is a minority sport that gets a level of media coverage completely out of proportion with its profile and popularity. However being a reasonable sort of guy, and of course not a WUM, i wouldnt say that. Must be just jealousy.

    As for not wanting league converts to succeed in Union, i seem to recall a certain Jason Robinson was quite good at both and certainly enjoyed a level of popularity amongst the union ranks.

    As a Bath fan, i am excited about the fact that we have just recruited jeremy Kyle (spelt something like that anyway) to play full back or wing next season. As a 'Union person' can someone explain to me why a scrum half in league would not play scrum half in Union and has to play in the back three?

  • Comment number 39.

    The making of Toby Flood was when he signed for Leicester. At Newcastle he was criticised for drifting in and out of games, but he has bought into the Leicester way of mental strength 100% and it has made him a much better player. The most impressive thing for me about Toby Flood is the mental strength he possesses to deal with the pressure of "not being Jonny" and simply getting on with it. It is something that made Charlie Hodgson turn to custard every time he put on an Engalnd jersey, but Floody seems to be impervious to it.


    Agree and disagree, Leicester have helped develop flood no doubt but part of teh reason he used to drift out of games or got critisism when he was younger he played at 12 outside Jonny for club and country and to be honest he isn't a great IC it doesn't suit him also at Newcastle pwhen he was there the pack was almost always on teh back foot and tehrefore its very difficult to consistently influence games as a back particularly playing out of position.

    On the Flood / Wilko axis I dont like it at all and if we are to change Hape then I'd be disappointed not to see one of Allen/Flutey/Manu get a run in the centres.

    For my money though at the minute people are udnerestimating the amount of tiem and space having two big units liek Hape and Tins is creating for Ashton/Cueto and Foden they might not be creating beautiful clean lines breaks but they are contributing to what so far has bene the best backlien in the tournement by a distance.

  • Comment number 40.

    flubster - if it was a deliberate mistake then you made me giggle. If it wasn't then you made me giggle even more. I think you mean Kyle Eastmond not Jeremy Kyle ! Jeremy Kyle may have been brought in to host a programme on the drug scandals at Bath but is unlikely to feature on the wing.

  • Comment number 41.

    I really don't think that a Flood/Wilkinson axis would be right for the way England are playing right now. Hape, whilst not the greatest 12 in the world, has been doing a good job straightening the line and making space for the back three to run in. Wilkinson doesn't really pose a running threat himself (don't mean that at a criticism - he's still very good at what he does, which was never running at the defence), so the defence could focus more on containing ashton, foden and cueto.

  • Comment number 42.

    I will be honest and say i am and always be a loyal fan of jonny wilkinson. I have followed his whole career since i was a teenager and always felt there was something special about him. It was destiny that made him score the final drop goal in 2003. No other man has done as much for rugby in this country as jonny wilkinson. He has inspired millions to follow him. He is to rugby what beckham is to football. Yet i still read idiots on here putting him down (jealous). I admire what he has said about taking a back seat to toby flood. Toby flood is a great player and will lead england forward and jonny on the bench fills me with joy. Can any other player be put on in a tense game and score a massive 3 points with his first kick, NO. If someone is going to be second i am glad it is him. When he comes on the pitch i do not worry. The man is a talisman, a good luck charm and he always gives 110%. All you winers out there who complain he aint as good as he used to be and should be dropped. Shut it. Id like to see how good you are after what jonny has been through and what he has achived yet he keeps coming.

    Go Jonny and Toby as a pair you will be unstoppable. You are ambassadors for england and you make me proud to be english as you should to all english people.

  • Comment number 43.

    Mr Pie...if you read the press releases from Bath about Jeremy, then they all state that he will be playing wing or full back. I think even Jeremy has said that!

  • Comment number 44.

    apologies...i guess it could be Ms Pie

  • Comment number 45.

    No: 42. Hear Hear Twickenhamloyal! I could have put it better myself :-)

  • Comment number 46.

    Oops... I actually meant I couldn't have out it better myself!

  • Comment number 47.

    @38 Flubster


    I was beginning to think that this was a very clever play on words, until I read the rest of the post and realised it patently wasn't!

    As lover of both codes (something of a rarity it would appear!) I am constantly dismayed by the sniping at one side by the other, whichever direction it is coming from.

    As I am not a WUM either I will not ask how many league blogs or magazines etc you read in order to pass a judgement that no "union people ever complain about "league people" whilst the question regarding the difference between a union scrum half and a league scrum half speaks volumes.

  • Comment number 48.

    #17, Mike Catt, Still was the best fly half . wilkinson was there for his place kicking. No one would talk about his running play. remember his intercepted pass on the lions tour changed the whole course of that series/

  • Comment number 49.


    Thank you. Nice to see there are other people out there who recognise and appreciate a true talent and legend when they see it.

  • Comment number 50.

    @47 Bless...what really amazes me is how Jeremy finds the time to present his hugely informative talk show and play rugby league. Will Bath allow him to continue having a media career!

    I for one certainly hope so. My mornings would be so terribly dull without him

  • Comment number 51.

    Thanks for all the comments, some good chat as always. Personally, I'd stick with Hape and Tindall in the centres. I don't think anyone believes it's the ideal combination - I'd like a little more attacking flair to be honest - but they are very direct and, as has already been pointed out, they suck defenders in and create space for players around them. I'm not sure Wilkinson is either creative enough with ball in hand to shift Hape, or sufficiently direct. That is not to say I don't think he's excellent at what he does at fly-half. I REPEAT - THAT IS NOT TO SAY I DON'T THINK HE'S EXCELLENT AT WHAT HE DOES AT FLY-HALF. You have to do that when you're talking about Wilkinson, just to make sure people don't fly off the handle...

  • Comment number 52.

    @11 and 14.
    he [dan carter] took it against France with his first kick, which happened to almost be at the halfway line
    Dan Carter did indeed become the highest points scorer in world rugby, but that was in the autumn and NZ haven't played recently giving Jonny the opportunity to win it back. Apologies if some one has already bought this up.

  • Comment number 53.

    Ben Dirs

    I agree with what you say. I cannot imagine Jonny Wilkinson in another postion. Fly half is his postion. Hape and Tindal are doing a grand job at centre (maybe not the best partnership) but hape is young - tindal a bit older. The exhubarance of youth partnered with the determination of experience. Both will learn from eachother and a great partnership will form. It has already, it just needs to be more direct

  • Comment number 54.

    Ben, I wish you would stop 'speaking' for a mass of people that never spoke.

    Recently we have seen blogs claiming that some people are talking about the Grand Slam for England - NO. The only person who was talking about it (literally a few hours after the Italy game) was the BBC blogger. Loads of people have said there are others. Everyone agrees with me.

    Yet here we go again - "many people are suggesting Flood at 10, and Wilko at 12."

    Followed by about 100% of the people saying this is a bad idea. So once again the only person talking about it is Mr Dirs!

    Its idle journalism. However, Loads of people are talking about how Johnson should be sacked, and John Wells should step up into the Coaching role, with Louis Deacon stepping up to Forwards Coach and Dame Judie Dench taking over from Rob Andrew in a kind of 'M' capacity. That is what everyone is talking about. Its true.

  • Comment number 55.

    On a more serious note. I am still concerned about how we seem to be getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

    There are areas of the team that are highly fragile - loss of form or an injury would leave us very short. Deacon in for Lawes is a case in point. There are better locks out there at Club level but are not getting a look in.

    Our centre pairing is highly debatable at present - but who replaces them. We have depth in the premiership, but I don't think anyone on this site would be able to get an understanding of what Johnson would do next. Erinle anyone?

    Same in the backrow. The experts around the world still maintain an out and out 7 is vital. I agree. But we lose Moody (always been more of a 6) and in comes Haskell and Wood. Fourie goes and Croft (another 6) replaces him.

    What happens if Easter gets a knock - we don't have another 8 in the selection panel.

    We have been fairly consistent with our selection and when an injury has occurred its either in a position we have stumbled on good cover (props) or against opposition (the 6nations quality ain't great) that can't exploit the weakness.

    We are likely to wander towards the world cup without suitable support positions. Thats a concern.

  • Comment number 56.

    Tinoflyer - I am constantly baffled by people misquoting me on my blogs, seemingly with the aim of creating a difference of opinion that doesn't actually exist. I sometimes think people like to create divisions in order so they can get angry about something. Very British. I didn't write: "many people are suggesting Flood at 10, and Wilko at 12." I actually wrote: "There are those who believe Flood and Wilkinson would be the ideal pairing at stand-off and inside-centre respectively." They are two very different things, as I'm sure you'll agree...

  • Comment number 57.

    Ben -

    1 - Regardless of the semantics, your post suggests that there are people out there who believe Flood and Wilko would be ideal - The point I made is that I have not come across one, certainly not one expert. So I would suggest it is a spurious claim. There are people out there that believe Diana is alive and well and living in Wakefield. There has to be some level of grounded justification to claims.

    2 - The very nature of unsubstantiated claims, as in the quote you made, and the comments about England 'daring to mention the Grand Slam' (not a direct quote but the principle is there) could only be described as an attempt to garner interest - or given the likelihood of comments from Wales - the Grand Slam comment blog can be seen as nothing short of baiting. Particularly because once again no English fan on the blog was even talking about the Grand Slam - just the author. Cue unpleasant claims of arrogance from the Welsh, and English fans feeling the need to defend their position.

    3 - "I sometimes think people like to create divisions in order so they can get angry about something. Very British." - Massive sweeping generalisation? Possibly aimed at creating divisions? - Irony perhaps? Not for me to say.

  • Comment number 58.

    Regarding brothers playing against each other, last year Salesi and Campese Mafu propped against each other (tighthead vs loosehead respectively) in the Australia vs Fiji match. It was an even match up, unlike when Salesi Mafu propped against England a few weeks later..

    Three greatest mysteries known to man, in reverse order:
    3. How is it my wife can't reverse the car out of our garage?
    2. What is the origin of the universe and the meaning of life?
    1. Why is it that England, with the highest number of registered rugby players by a considerable margin, can't produce an international centre who can pass an effing rugby ball properly?

    If we had just one of Hook, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, SB Williams, Adam Ashley-Cooper, England would be a considerably more dangerous proposition in the backs. But I think it is important to accept and give credit to the England coaching set up for the fact they have recognised this glaring deficiency, realised there is no quick fix solution this time, and have picked two players and are making it work. So far anyway. I don't think anyone would dispute that the England centre pairing isn't right, (I wouldn't be surprised if even Tindall was surprised still to be selected after his repeated bouts of passing the ball to members of the crowd) but the solution isn't banging on the door. Hopefully someone will step up soon, but I doubt it will be before the World Cup.

  • Comment number 59.

    #57 Tinoflyer,

    Very well said.

  • Comment number 60.


    Whilst I agree with your thoughts regarding second row, Deacon is a solid player, but not a great one, despite how well he played against France (French TV's man of the match and all!) and we do have other 2nd rows available. I don't really understand your back row quandry though...I honestly think that our back row is one place where we do have real strength in depth, and cued an interesting debate on the last England blog re. Croft's involvement in the team.

    For me, our first choice starting back row would be: Croft, Moody and Easter. But we honestly have loads of players, young and old, who are very good back rows who may take to international rugby as well as Wood has (note the MAY; there are no certainties afterall!) or are already tested.

    6: Wood, Fourie, Haskell are all tested, able replacements for Croft
    7: Haskell has done an okj ob so far this 6N, you also have Robshaw and Steffon Armitage, who if he hits a bit of form at the right time is a very effective openside, Tom Rees (if he can stay injury free...a big IF I know) the eternally (and for me mistifyingly) overlooked Andy Saull at Saffacens...put in some storming performances since Christmas...
    8: Haskell (again?), Crane, Narraway, Dowson...all good players, and all going to be vying for the shirt post WC anyway, as I expect that to be Easter's final international tournament.

    If Deacon and Palmer continue to play well, throw in Attwood and maybe Borthwick (I know! We only just got rid of him...but he's playing extremely well at Saracens at the moment) you have ample second rows there...Lawes to 6 in an extreme emergency? and James Gaskell at Sharks can play lock or flanker too...

    Perhaps none of these people are world-beaters...who knows? But judging on premiership form, Im not too worried about them at all.

    Im still far more concerned about centres...another question then: Brad Barritt? I watched him carve a very effective few holes against the Tigers last weekend at 12 for Saffa's...he's big like Hape too...if Shontayne is still struggling come the WC, would Brad be worth a look too?

  • Comment number 61.

    58. BennyBlanco

    Hape can pass (admittedly Tindall can't). So can Flutey, and so can Anthony Allen.
    Just to counter your list, I'd say that all three of the above can pass better than either SB Williams or Nonu - both of whom are fantastic offloaders, among other skills, but are not strictly speaking greater passers of the ball. Nonu in particular regularly delivers passes that would make a schoolboy blush. But of course, neither Nonu nor SBW need to be good passers - they, and the All Blacks, have so much else to offer.

    Which I presume is what MJ is hoping to get from his centre partnership too - not so much the ability to pass as to suck in defenders, offload where needs be, and generally do damage to the defence thereby releasing the back 3. Most of England's recent tries have come either from a direct pass from Youngs or Flood to the back 3, or through interlink play between the back 3 themselves. Where Hape and Tindall have been useful is in their ability to tie up the defence.

    I agree though that it can be frustrating to watch classical down the line attacks come to nothing because Tindall passes into touch, or behind his man, or wherever.
    Personally I think the future pairing should be Allen and Tuilagi, that would be potentially devastating, but we'll have to wait till at least 2012 to see it.

  • Comment number 62.

    Firstly, good blog Ben.

    I am a fan of Wilkinson the man. He has always had an almost frightening dedication to the game and has always conducted himself exceptionally well.

    However, and this is not a personal attack on Jonny, he has always been a limited player. He is a great goal kicker, a good tactical kicker and a hard tackler. But in the peak of his career, he was playing in an experienced side with a clearly defined role. Most importantly, he had Matt Dawson and Will Greenwood inside and outside him respectively. This cannot be underestimated. In the years since their retirements, we have seen Wilkinson struggle again and again to stamp his authority on games when he has been seen as a 'leader' of the team. Yes he has been saddled with various average players at both 9 and 12, but leading and directing a team are obviously aspects of the game he is not comfortable with.

    The 12 debate has been around since Will Greenwood retired from England Rugby duty in 2004. Hape is clearly not the answer. Whilst I can see why is was fast tracked (Size, direct running, a quick inside step and the traditional Rugby League offload) he has not performed the basic duties of an International inside centre. His distribution is not bringing the back three onto the ball and this is stunting England's attacking game, which would be none existent if it wasn't the Youngs-Flood axis at half back. There are options for this position. Olly Barkley has never been given a fair crack at holding down that position. If a harder, straight running 12 is needed, Brad Barrit or Jordon Turner-Hall could be tried. My choice would be Anthony Allen. He is playing in the best team in England and has improved since his debut in 2006. Quick feet and a good distribution game, his defence has benefitted from moving to Leicester as well. Wilkinson would not work in the 12 channel in my view. His crabbing style would bring a defence onto him and he doesn't have the pace or step to move away from the heavy traffic.

    As for Flood, he is the most improved player in the Northern hemisphere. He has always had talent, but now he is bossing games, Along with Youngs and he is THE MOST important player for England at the moment. We just need someone other than Chris Ashton to pick lines off his passes.

  • Comment number 63.


    Nonu is a superb passer of the ball. It's something he has really worked on and doesn't get the credit he deserves. I can't find many examples apart from this one

    which is lovely, but admittedly routine pass. He only had one boot on though.

    But he can knock over a watering can with the best of them...

    Of your list, neither Hape nor Flutey were produced by England but that's just being picky. I agree that Flutey can pass, but he hasn't been fit/in form for a while and Allen just doesn't seem to be a top level player to me. You have a point of course, I was just being flippant about how England should be able to produce a shoe-in international class centre. I just find it astounding that Tindall has amassed so many caps without being able to complete basic skills at times. But as I said, he and Hape bring something different which the England coaches are making work at the moment, so I can't complain too much. I would like to see Flutey back on form though.

  • Comment number 64.

    #54. Tinoflyer. #60. Croftalicious. #62. Juan Pablo.
    This has been a very interesting debate. Regarding the question of Mr Dirs possibly writing things which may not necessarily be true, but do provoke debate, is that not the purpose of the article, to prime the pump of a hopefully healthy discussion. Although the BBC may well have a tacit political agenda, this is not a political forum and the Beeb should not have a hidden agenda about Rugby; although having said that there are plenty on the RL boards who would say it does.

    To say that "If Hape is still struggling come the WC...." and "He has not performed the basic duties of an international inside centre", somewhat begs the question. He may be struggling to satisfy you guy's expectations of a traditional inside centre, but he may be fulfilling the requirements of Martin Johnson, who may well regard this style of centre play to be the one to take into the World Cup. I suspect this may be the case, and it would be rather foolish surely to start tinkering with the team set up other than because of injuries or a drastic loss of form. Tindall's propensity for passing to the crowd ain't new and perhaps he brings enough in other ways to the party that the occasional lapse can be overlooked. However perhaps now would be a good time, as has been suggested elsewhere, to bring into the set up Manu Tuilagi, an exciting prospect if ever there was one. There are obviously more established and older players on the edges of selection, but they have mostly had their chances and for whatever reason not made the grade, so some young blood may bring something new to the mix.

  • Comment number 65.

    I understand that different people will have different requirements for a 12, but for me, Hape is no the answer. I believe Johnson will pick him through to the World Cup, with a replacement coming in for the following 6 nations if Hape has a poor tournament. The things I mentioned about Hape being fast tracked are the reasons he is STILL being selected. Potentially, Hape has a lot to offer, its just in reality it hasn't happended yet. Johnson seems to be optimistic things will click... I'm not so sure. It reminds me of the Steve Borthwick debate. Johnson continued to pick him despite poor performances and results. It was a way of being stubborn and not relenting to media pressure to pick players who carry the ball or hit rucks hard, such as Courtney Lawes, Tom Palmer or Dave Attwood. When Borthwick was dropped from the Autumn squad, Johnson stated that whilst it was a tough decision, the game had changed in the period between the 6 nations and last autumn and different duties needed to be performed by an International second row. We all know that Borthwick, whilst a dedicated pro and VERY intelligent man, is just not upto scratch. Basically, Johnson eventually saw that being stubborn was holding the team back, hence the dropping. He will claim otherwise I'm sure, but it would be a week argument. Hape and Tindall will be picked if fit upto the World Cup, after which I believe Tindall will retire and Hape will be replaced.

    Manu Tuilagi... Should be a wildcard world cup pick. Centres that will go will be Hape, Tindall, Banahan, Tuilagi.

  • Comment number 66.

    Juan Pablo's list of Martin Johnson's probable choices for centre is about right. However does the picking of Matt Banahan, mainly a winger, for his size and his perceived ability to smash through the opposition dragging two or three defenders with him, not exactly encapsulate what Martin Johnson's tactical requirements are from his centres? Not just one of them but both. Not Carling and Guscott, but a scheme of using the centres to occupy the attention of the opposition, while quickly, even directly getting the ball out to the back three. Is it beginning to sound reminiscent of American Football? Probably not, I'm being silly.

  • Comment number 67.

    How ironic, that I was championing JW at 12 on the last article and got blown out of the water by everyone.

    quite amusing how people's 'opinions' seem to change based on the popularity of response and the tone of the article

    First up JW and TF were at Newcastle for 5 years and inter-changed frequently.

    Also Contepommi is at toulon and regularly interchanges with wilko as first receiver (points I made on the last article). can't question wilko's defence and as a second kicking option would prevent the blitz defence and give flood more time...........

    will New Zealand start with Sonny Bill Williams and Nonu? Answer is NO, they will pick ONE to partner Conrad Smith who is the 'brains' of the midfield, something England are lacking in at the moment.

    Too many one dimensional thoughts thinkers on here about the number on your back meaning you are only 'allowed' to be in one position for 80 mins.

    Definately agree that Manu Tuilagi should be at least on the bench, anthony allen, definately not, flutey has been shockingly bad for over a year, waldouck and barritt are looking good as is clarke at northampton..

  • Comment number 68.

    Whether you love him or you hate him one thing that Johnny Wilkinson has always been is a completely committed professional, this is a man who all but literally practice kicked his knee to dust and who had to be told to lay off the training. I agree with a lot of people on here and comments on previous other blogs that what Wilkinson offers is not just a player but an example for the younger guys to follow and his attitude to not getting picked is admirable and selfless.

    Agree with the majority on here that I can't see the TF and JW 10-12 combination working, neither are a natural IC and it's hard enough to adapt to the switch at club level, let alone on the international stage. JW is (as someone has said above) the perfect 21. Who else would you like to see to come on at the 60 minute mark, close out the game and be able to tackle anything in excess of a Boeing 747.

    I can't help but feel Martin Johnson has got the centre partnership pretty much right atm. One of the biggest assets to any international team these days is quick go forward ball. Hape & Tindall may not be the creative flair, but they're definately the go forward making it so much easier to procure quick ball. Leave the flair to the Youngs and Floods of the team and the finishing to the back 3 who are succeeding in this atm. For the Future i'd love to see Allen get another shot, he was unfortunate to make a mistake (albeit a howler of an interception pass to Dan Carter of all people) when English management was a lot more fickle and didn't stick with any kind of selection policy. The strength in depth at centre will only be strength if we blood these players, but the futures looking ok with Barritt, Manu, Turner-Hall etc Dominic Waldouck is a favourite of mine, i think he's got potential to be a big player. Exciting times will come when these Younger lads get their chance. Will Greenwood should definitely get procreating and give us the England IC of the future soon!!

    On another note, I love Rugby League a very compelling and exciting vein of the sport, lets all just get along!

    @John of Burgundy - If England keep playing like this i'm gonna have to get myself Friendly with a French Cheese Merchant in the South of France, would love to sample some of his delicacies, shame you don't get many of these in Cornwall. Free samples surely?! ;)

  • Comment number 69.

    @ Deep heat (#8) “The idea of Wilko joining the midfield is intriguing (and was actually chatted about last year as well by a few observers). It goes without saying that we would lose nothing defensively. What is often not noted about Jonny though, is that he does actually have the capacity to be a very creative player”

    As much as I admire him, the idea of advertising this potential combo as having been successfully used at Newcastle is false. Don’t exactly recall Newcastle setting the Prem alive when using that combination. Do you?

    @ Oli (#25) "With regards to Hape it seems that possession is 9 tenths of the law and until he makes glaring mistakes or some one steals the shirt from him, he is here to stay."

    …like when he shipped 5 points against Wales (missed tackle), and missed another 5 against France (missed overlap)?

  • Comment number 70.

    #69. Carlos R. I am not Hape's number 1 fan, but be fair are there not plenty of other players who retain their places despite making mistakes in actual play and decisions?

  • Comment number 71.

    #69- Newcastle had a backline consisting of wilko,Flood, Tait, May, all of whom went on to play for england and WHEN they got their hands on the ball were as entertaining as anyone, problem was the Newcastle pack was constantly on the back foot.

    As mentioned before, JW is now operating exactly the same with Toulon and with Contepommi, I think most people on here don't actually watch the French league (available on ESPN) or that much Aviva Rugby and jump on the 6N's band wagon. watching a few internationals a year doesn't give people the right to comment on how individuals are performing week in, week out. The guy is class and has been rejuvenated, playing on good quality pitches, with a pack on the front foot, playing heads up, attacking rugby. His loyalty to Newcastle nearly cost him his career, but that's what the guys about, what short memories people have

  • Comment number 72.

    #71. handofjohnson. An impassioned plea for JW to be given credit for his tremendous achievements over the past decade and more. And I for one will not be so churlish as to disagree with it. JW has indeed been and continues to be one of the most dedicated sportsmen in world wide Rugby in this era. Probably in other sports too, although I am not qualified to speak about them. As many, many others have said over the years, if he had remained fit in the years after 2003, God alone knows what he may have achieved. The fact that he accepts being on the bench so stoically also is to his great credit -- and what a replacement to have available.

    Could it not be that in his value to the team and its success he has more value in his shock and awe substitute role, than as a possible interchangeable 10-12 with Flood?

  • Comment number 73.

    watershead moment?
    I guess we should just ignore the Autumn test defeats to New Zeland and South Africa then...?

  • Comment number 74.

    Wilkinson is an absolute legend, one of my favourite players.

    By the way, I didn't think the last Calcutta Cup game was a borefest, I watched it with 5 coworkers [at work!], and we were all screaming at the TV. It wasn't a try fest, but certainly nail biting.

    Noone would suggest the 1995 World Cup final was a borefest, there were no tries but the kick off between Stransky and Mehrtens was gripping as hell.

  • Comment number 75.

    60 Croftalicious

    I agree with you that we have the players in the premiership, but the concern I have is that going into the World cup I don't think we have the right mix or balance that is needed to meet the tougher challenges of the southern hemisphere. Largely because they haven't really been given a chance.

    Fourie is the only true 7 or fetcher in the bunch, but I would argue he is not exactly ready to break down the best of the SH. I think Armitage is, but he is overlooked in favour of a series of blindsides.

    Louis Deacon had his best game for England, but there is not much to compare to. He is a solid player at best. The point is, Lawes is injured, and in comes Deacon. So many other good locks that could do more than Deacon, but Johnson reverts to type.

    This is ok for the 6N but as proven against the South Africans in the Autumn, we are going to need a bit more creativity.

    I agree we have some wonderful back row forwards, but how close are they to the England team? I don't see the long term plan for number 8, and if we wish to switch to a better mix in the backrow, I don't see a truly tested 7. I also don't see what the plan is for locks.

  • Comment number 76.


    Same with the centres and wings.

    If New Zealand lose a player through injury, they have a plan for a replacement. The team rarely suffers because they all appear to have been part of the all black set up forever. I don't get that impression with this set up. I think we have the depth of players, but its difficult to believe that this set up would turn to the right players. Hence the Erinle catastrophe.

    Fortunately the match day 22 is doing ok. But we need to step up a gear to match the SH teams and we need to be able to adapt to different gameplans.

  • Comment number 77.

    13. At 1:22pm on 10 Mar 2011, famousimpressario

    Ee ba gum, there's always a rugby league type, with a big Harry Ramsden's chip on yon shoulder.

    Go back to t' whippets, eh lad?

  • Comment number 78.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 79.

    #77. tomaroon. The animosity between the codes is a two way street and both directions are equally pointless in the modern professional era and comments like yours, verging on racist, are no help whatsoever.

  • Comment number 80.

    79. TeaPartyBrit

    I think that, if you read both union and league forums, you will find that the animosity is definitely not " a two way street".

    And "verging on racist"?
    Thanks for giving me and my wife (who, by the way, is a northerner) the best laugh we've had for ages.

  • Comment number 81.

    #80. tomaroon. I do read both RL and RU forums and I find prejudiced remarks about the "other" code on both sides.

    I like both codes, and appreciate the differences, but fear financial realities will not allow the continuance at top professional level of both so because of SH influence (specifically Australian) a merged professional code will be formed, promoted by TV.

    As for verging on racist: I am as it happens a firm believer in free speech, and in the context of your remarks at #77 I was making an ironic statement on the political correctness which nowadays governs what we can and cannot say. Of course your remark was not racist, but in another context at a similar level of banality it would be so judged. Happy to have given you and your wife a good laugh, and no offence intended.

  • Comment number 82.

    #81. TeaPartyBrit wrote:

    "I was making an ironic statement on the political correctness which nowadays governs what we can and cannot say"


    No need to backpedal, sir: Northerners are fiercely proud of their racial identity.

    Why else would an entire race choose - en masse - to accommodate small sinuous rodents about their trouserly regions?

  • Comment number 83.

    Why was the women's England-Scotland game advertised as being on the Red Button service when instead you're showing pictures of the awards ceremony that's being broadcast on Radio 2 anyway?

    I appreciate you have limited capacity on Freeview, but this is a ridiculous waste of it, and false advertising.

    Why does the BBC have so little respect for women's sport?

  • Comment number 84.

    Great article, and great responses from both Toby and Jonny. Obvously the 10 jersey is Toby's at the moment, and to hear the humble nature of Wilkinson is staggering. Recently found more interviews from him here - - worth a watch for any fan.


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