England v Georgia, Rugby World Cup, September 18
Wilko: We're closer than ever
ESPNscrum Staff
September 17, 2011
England's Jonny Wilkinson warms up for the start of his fourth World Cup, England training session, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, September 2, 2011
Wilkinson insists the fall out from the night out in Queenstown has brought the squad closer together © Getty Images

Jonny Wilkinson insisted criticism over some players enjoying a drink-fuelled night out had made England tighter and more determined than ever to win the Rugby World Cup.

Wilkinson, predictably, was not among the players who visited the Altitude Bar in Queenstown, which was hosting a dwarf-racing night as part of a "Mad Midget Weekend".

The England fly-half criticised elements of the media for trying to drive a wedge into the squad - and he vowed they would fail. As England prepared to tackle Georgia, Wilkinson revealed the episode had acted not as a distraction but as fuel for the fire.

"It's massively motivational to everyone in the team," said Wilkinson. "We are more together than ever. We understand that whatever has happened has happened and there are huge elements of it that seem to be there to try and drive into the squad to separate us and to try to make things harder.

"The guys refuse to do that. The guys are tighter than ever. Respect for each other is probably tighter than ever. Understanding of what we've put into this (campaign) and how much it means is probably tighter than ever. And guys are focusing even more intensely on things to come."

The Queenstown episode highlighted the clash of cultures that exists with professional rugby players who want to enjoy a normal night out but also carry some celebrity status.

England manager Martin Johnson warned he would rather quit than lock his squad in their hotel, as Fabio Capello did with the national football team at the 2010 World Cup.

Johnson's view is that if it was good enough for his 2003 title-winning team then it is good enough for the current brigade looking to win the Webb Ellis trophy.

"Any team I've ever played in has had nights out like they did on Sunday," said Johnson. "I've said before, I trust them but you're dealing with human beings under a huge amount of pressure. We send teams to try and win world championships and in England the expectation on these guys is extraordinary.

"So part of trying to handle that is letting off steam occasionally. I knew they were going out. I said to Lewis (Moody, the captain) 'you guys need to be careful'. We've had no complaints from the bar they were in or anyone in Queenstown, and it was the same in Dunedin.

"Everyone's said it's been great to have you, you've been accessible, you've done things in the community and all those other good things."

Wilkinson, the most famous player of them all, has spent his whole career trying to find the right balance between being an elite athlete and finding a release from the pressure. The 2003 World Cup-winner lives his life as if on Big Brother, driven by a need to justify every minute of the 24-hour video footage he imagines is being recorded of him.

Wilkinson would never hold up himself and his obsessive nature as a role model for others, but he believes all players have to be honest with themselves.

Wilkinson said: "You manage (the fame game) and you do try and balance it. It's difficult because you don't want to be forced to live an existence that doesn't befit you, or that you don't enjoy or that doesn't help you get better at what you want to do.

"At the same time you understand we are in a very privileged position and a very fortunate lifestyle comes from it. It's not so much the price you pay as something you need to consider.

"For me it's always been a balance I've struck. For me it's always been about the battle inside and dealing with the obsessional side to get to the end result, as opposed to doing things I want to do in life."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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