England v Italy, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 12
Wilkinson adapting to new role
February 9, 2011
England fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood prepare for the clash with Italy at Twickenham on Saturday © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson admits he is still adjusting to the role of a support player but insists his desire to play for England remains as strong as ever.
Wilkinson lost the coveted England No.10 jersey to his former protege Toby Flood at the end of last year's Six Nations. Flood has since started the last eight Tests at fly-half and was man of the match in England's victory over Wales last Friday night.
Wilkinson came off the bench to seal the win with a late penalty, just as he did in the summer when England beat Australia 21-20 in Sydney. And while being restricted to a bench role frustrates the World Cup winner he remains fully committed to the cause.
"It is hell sat on the sideline but at the same time it is massively important. Being on the bench brings new lessons for me," Wilkinson said. "My desire to play for England is still as great as it was when I won my first cap. I am now in a role where I contribute slightly differently.
"It is a massive thing to get the opportunity to go on the field and do something like kicking that late penalty (against Wales). It is what you train for and it is what you live for. It is why we do it."
Injuries permitting, Wilkinson will play in his fourth World Cup later this year having helped England win the title in 2003 and reach the final four years ago. Wilkinson's international career, which began in 1998 and totals 81 Test caps for England and the Lions, could be over after the World Cup, when England introduce a new policy of only selecting players based at domestic clubs.
Wilkinson knew the situation when he signed his new deal at Toulon but he could not turn his back on the club that revived his career after seven injury-plagued years. "I can't impress upon you enough what a change to my life living in France has made," Wilkinson said. "To play and play and play is crucial for me. It's been a while and there were all kinds of different injuries going on.
"Seven years of coming in for cameo appearances has thrown me around in a way I don't think I'll ever understand fully. Your confidence goes with all these things. It has been an interesting journey for me.
"I've learned that if I want to play rugby I can only play it one way or I don't play it at all. My desire is to keep trying to get better and better. It would mean a huge amount to me to play in a fourth World Cup. I'm in it for the long run and I will give it all I've got and nothing less."
Wilkinson is set to be named on the bench again tomorrow when England manager Martin Johnson announces his team to play Italy. Flanker Hendre Fourie and inside centre Riki Flutey are fit for consideration but Johnson is likely to retain the same team that beat Wales 26-19.
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