England v Argentina, Rugby World Cup, Dunedin, September 10
Wilkinson out to erase painful memories
September 6, 2011
Jonny Wilkinson strikes a familiar pose in training ahead of England's Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina © Getty Images
England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson returns to Dunedin this weekend determined to learn from the harsh rugby lesson he suffered on his last visit to the city.
It is 13 years since an England side featuring a 19-year-old Wilkinson conceded nine tries on their way to a 64-22 defeat at the hands of New Zealand at Carisbrook. The scars from that crushing loss, just one of three suffered on the infamous 'Tour From Hell', may have now healed by Wilkinson insists the game still resonates.
"It was a big building block in my life. Who knows what would have happened if you take that one away?" he commented ahead of his side's Rugby World Cup opener with Argentina at the city's new futuristic new stadium, which features a permanent glass roof.
"We got hammered by a much better team and we learned what it takes to be the best that day. It has been important to me. We thought we knew what we were doing but you find out just how far short you are. I still have that lesson now and not just in rugby.
"Coming back you do realise how much following there is for rugby and how much pride there is in performance. It does give you that little boost to know that when you come here to play, you have got to bring the best you have otherwise you will get hurt."
It is not the All Blacks who will dish out the hurt on Saturday if England are off their game, but a fired-up Argentina side with a point to prove. The Pumas, who finished third at the 2007 World Cup, boast one of the most ferocious forward packs in world rugby but their game is about more than just set piece dominance.
Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi has played alongside Wilkinson at Toulon for the last two seasons and been influential on the England World Cup-winner. "He is a hugely talented player and I couldn't have learned from someone over the last two years. That is a fact," Wilkinson continued. "The way he has played and shown me has been invaluable to my career."
Both Wilkinson and Contepomi are entering their fourth World Cup, as is Pumas hooker Mario Ledesma. The Clermont Auvergne veteran who will pack down in the front row alongside Stade Francais prop Rodrigo Roncero and Montpellier's Juan Figallo.
"You test yourself as a player, as a front row forward, against the Argentinians and the French," said England scrum coach Graham Rowntree. "And when you've got Argentinians playing with French clubs, that doubles the challenge.
"As a youngster, one of my first caps was against Argentina and that was a difficult evening. It's a benchmark of scrummaging gurus - how do you do against a team like Argentina or France? Are they the best in the business? We'll see in this competition.
"They're always a handful as a nation. A very physical outfit, the whole team: forward line, back line, they won't give up. It's always a very hard, physical encounter against them and I don't think that will ever change. That philosophy on scrummaging is to be respected - but we like scrummaging as well!"
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