England v Australia, Twickenham, November 7
Wilkinson ready for international return
November 6, 2009
England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson signals to a team-mate during training at Pennyhill Park this week © Getty Images
Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson is relishing his return to England colours against Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
The 30-year-old will pull on an England shirt for the first time in 18 months to tackle the Wallabies but despite his lengthy absence from the international stage he retains the respect of his opponents - including Australia coach Robbie Deans.
Rugby World Cup winner Wilkinson has returned to top form since swapping Premiership side Newcastle for Top 14 club Toulon in the summer and as a result he has been singled out as a key threat by the Wallabies - but Deans insists with that comes increased pressure. "He essentially won England the World Cup, so inevitably there will be a lot of expectation. We believe England will be more dangerous with Jonny," he said.
Wilkinson was quick to play down the significance of his return and joked that he was dropped after his last England start, in 2008, ended in a 9-3 defeat by Scotland.
"It is flattering to hear someone mention you like that," said Wilkinson. "But one thing I have learned over the last few years is that there is no such thing as a good player, just a good team that allows players to be good.
"So many times when people have said I had a good game, I actually came off the field thinking I had done nothing. All I did was listen to the guy next to me and do what he said. Rugby is very much about trust. The nature of working for each other is that it brings the best out of everyone. Both teams understand that this weekend.
"I have always tried to look at pressure in so many different ways to understand what it really does - but ultimately when the whistle goes you just do your best. You fight and you do whatever it takes to win."
Wilkinson's career is largely defined by his matches against Australia, dating back to a 76-0 mauling on his first Test start in Brisbane in 1999. Two years later he was the starting fly-half for the Lions against Australia before establishing himself as the Wallabies' Rugby World Cup nemesis. Wilkinson landed the match-winning drop goal in the 2003 final and then booted all the points to knock Australia out in the 2007 quarter-finals.
As a result Wilkinson is relishing his latest match-up with the Green and Gold.
"I could have woken up this morning not knowing where I was, but I knew from how I felt that there was something big going on this weekend," he said. "It's always special because they're always up there at the top of the world game. When I think about Australia, I think of a certain professionalism and a major strength in that tactically they can work better than any other team. You have to be 100% on your toes. As soon as you're not, they'll pull you apart."
England's injury crisis means Wilkinson is returning to a new-look back division and a team featuring only one other survivor from 2007, the flanker Lewis Moody. Wilkinson believes the challenge of trying to gel with the likes of scrum-half Danny Care and inside centre Shane Geraghty has been made easier by his experiences in France.
"What has really helped me is the opportunity of being a new guy in a team and after 10 months out having to search quickly to try and understand the game, to understand other players, to get the best out of them," said Wilkinson.
"To have to do it all on the run is a challenge. By searching for it you are learning quickly and I know I am getting better week on week and that is where I want to be. It is exciting to guys like Ugo Monye, Danny Care, Shane Geraghty. I have been watching them for some time now and they are playing fabulous rugby. I can enjoy feeding off their form at the moment."