Wilko: I'm better now than I was in 2003
October 24, 2009
Jonny Wilkinson believes that he's a better player now than he was when he kicked England to the World Cup in 2003 © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson believes he is a better player now than he was when he kicked England to World Cup glory in 2003.
The Toulon fly-half is expected to be named in the squad for the November 7 clash against Australia at Twickenham but he has one final Top 14 match on Saturday against Bourgoin to negotiate before he can cast his attention to that eventuality.
What will delight the England fans though is that along with a sustained run in which he's remained injury free for Toulon he also believes that he's developed into a much improved player despite his success of six years ago.
The then-Newcastle fly-half's last-gasp drop-goal in the 2003 final in Sydney earned his country a 20-17 victory over hosts Australia - and the Webb Ellis trophy.
Wilkinson told The Times: "People will ask me: 'Will you ever be like you were in 2003?' The answer is: 'I am way better now'."
"If you could transport the 'me now' straight into the situations of 2001 and 2003, what would I have done? I think the 'me now' would have been handy.
"I am undoubtedly better. There is no way that the 2001 version would have been able to deal with the 2007 World Cup experience. I don't know how I would have dealt with it. I wouldn't have had the intelligence or the experience."
In France two years ago Wilkinson sat out the opening two games following an ankle injury, but to returned and established himself as a key figure as England's surprised all by progressing to the final.
The attention does though inevitably focus on Wilkinson's physical fitness after shoulder, knee, arm, kidney, hernia and rib problems have affected large portions of his career. The 30 year-old believes now that his improvements mentally are what sets him apart from his younger self.
"I was suited to 2001 or 2003 because I was surrounded by people like Mike Catt, (Kyran) Bracken or (Matt) Dawson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood, Martin Johnson, pillars all around me," he added.
"I was doing things because I was getting a load of help from them. But that person in 2007, or here in France? Not a chance. I am way better now because I understand what is going on.
"Back then it was like a headache trying to work out 100 things at once. It is almost like you are dissecting and composing, all the time. That much mental strain with the pressure of playing at a high level when I was young, without all that help, wouldn't have combined.
"Now I am processing it without too much effort. That is why, if asked if I will ever be back to where I was in 2003, if the exact same situations ever played out I think I would go all right."
Looking ahead to the possibility of walking out against the Wallabies, Wilkinson was careful to take nothing for granted and when asked if his mind wanders to the team's training camp in Surrey next week, he admitted: "A little bit. That's natural, but something about me just knocks it straight back.
"If it (a call-up) happens, it will be absolutely amazing."