Six Nations
Johnson dismisses Wilkinson criticism
February 17, 2010
England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson walks from the field, Italy v England, Six Nations, Stadio Flaminio, February 14, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson had a mixed game in Rome © Getty Images

England manager Martin Johnson has spoken out in support of under-pressure fly-half Jonny Wilkinson following their scrappy victory over Italy in Rome.

England came away with a 17-12 victory but Wilkinson uncharacteristically missed several shots at goal and struggled to dominate the game tactically.

Speculation has increased that Wilkinson's place in the side will come under pressure from Leicester's Toby Flood ahead of their vital meeting with Ireland at Twickenham on February 27, but Johnson believes that the criticism is unwarranted.

"I don't agree with the criticism. Jonny missed a few kicks and suddenly everyone is calling for his head, which I find pretty disappointing and surprising," Johnson said. "No-one is undroppable, no-one ever has been. But is it Jonny's fault we didn't convert our line breaks? No, it's a team thing.

"It has become the vogue to have a pop at Jonny. It is not always right or fair and I think some people are using it for their own agenda but that is the world we live in."

Wilkinson's game management has come into focus following England's stuttering display and while Johnson acknowledges that other members of the squad may offer a better option in that aspect of the game, he is principally concerned with safeguarding the balance of the team.

"You have players who are not in the team who are potentially better at some areas of the game than guys that are in the team. You have to weigh up that overall impact," he said. "I think Toby has been playing well. We have good depth in that position. We are lucky to have two world-class players at 10."

Johnson acknowledged England must improve their communication in the key play-making areas ahead of the Ireland game a week on Saturday, a demand aimed specifically at inside centre Riki Flutey and scrum-half Danny Care.

"We are not playing in isolation out there and that is something we will stress," said Johnson. "Danny Care is improving all the time in that position and Riki was back for his first game at this level in six or seven months. We can only get better there."

Johnson has kept 17 of his 32-man squad in camp for the next 24 hours - England's starting team from the Italy game plus hooker Steve Thompson and prop Matt Mullan.

Fifteen players have been released back to their clubs for this weekend's round of Guinness Premiership action, including Flood and the six bench players who were used in Rome.

The released players are: Steffon Armitage, Chris Ashton, Matt Banahan, Jordan Crane, Louis Deacon, Ben Foden, Flood, Shontayne Hape, Dan Hipkiss, Paul Hodgson, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw, Dan Ward-Smith, David Wilson, Ben Youngs.


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