Wilkinson targets Tonga knock out
PA Sport
September 23, 2007

England have started dusting themselves down for part two of their World Cup-defining Polynesian double header, with Jonny Wilkinson declaring: "Exactly the same rules will apply."

After sending Samoa crashing out of the tournament, England must administer a knockout blow to Tonga at Parc des Princes next Friday night or face pool stage elimination themselves.

But such an unthinkable scenario - a fate not experienced by any previous reigning rugby world champion - has rescinded when compared with the gloom and despair that accompanied England's record tournament defeat against South Africa nine days ago.

England looked down and out in the immediate aftermath of that 36-0 drubbing.

Wilkinson's return from injury though, allied with a much-changed team's admirable resilience in the face of suffocating Samoan second-half pressure, brought a potential quarter-final clash against Australia sharply into focus.

Throughout the side, players stood up and were counted, from skipper Martin Corry to his two-try accomplice Paul Sackey, while scrum-half Andy Gomarsall, lock Simon Shaw and flanker Joe Worsley also delivered towering displays.

But it was Wilkinson, so often England's calming influence in their hour of need during a 61-cap Test career, who guided them home.

His first 2007 World Cup appearance brought a 24-point haul - four penalties, three conversions and two drop-goals - and he took everything Samoa's destructive tacklers threw at him.

Not even Brian `The Chiropractor' Lima managed to rearrange Wilkinson's limbs, although one dreadful Lima lunge at England's playmaker ludicrously went unpunished by Irish referee Alan Lewis.

With Samoa out of the way though, England have got to do it all over again by beating opponents who gave Pool A winners South Africa a major fright in Lens before succumbing 30-25.

Wilkinson, who became only the second player to clock up 200 World Cup points, said: ``Exactly the same rules will apply in the next game. It is essentially the same position.

``We've got the opportunity now to analyse and go forward with a positivity, having won, which is very different to coming off the back of the previous two games (against America and South Africa) when there is disappointment.

``Having won, it does give you a bit more of a positive feel, which is a much more enjoyable environment.

``It is tough, knowing you are hanging by a bit of a thread and that the pressure is on. We had to deal with it.

``It was looking like a very tough second-half, but we managed to turn it around. We managed to find a path to a win when things looked difficult.''

Samoa, 23-6 behind just before half-time, trailed only 26-22 within eight minutes of the restart.

All of England's good early work - Corry's opening try after just 79 seconds and a well-planned Sackey score - looked in danger of unravelling.

Full-back Loki Crichton kicked 17 points and scrum-half Junior Polu touched down under pressure from Mathew Tait, collecting a score which video referee Bryce Lawrence took an age to confirm.

At that stage of a gripping second period, England were reeling on the ropes like a punch-drunk boxer, yet they dug deep and produced a blistering finish sparked by a huge Wilkinson penalty, then further tries for Corry and Sackey,
whose second score was brilliant in its execution.

``Samoa have got some pretty good defensive players, and we worked hard in our defence,'' said England full-back Josh Lewsey.

``To me, Joe Worsley is individually one of the best defensive players in world rugby, and I don't think he's got any pain receptors in his shoulders either, because he chopped down the best.

``Confidence comes from winning, and the composure from our decision-makers was exemplary. It was a case of getting ourselves out of the arm wrestle we were in.

``The most pleasing things were the composure, execution and precision. At 26-22 on our own line, we were under a lot of pressure.''

The Samoan Achilles' heel - a misfiring lineout - meant England dominated that key set-piece area, and the scrum again went well, suggesting Phil Vickery could struggle to dislodge prop Matt Stevens, despite completing his two-match ban.

Corry, who deserves to retain the captaincy if Vickery plays, added: ``We knew this was always one of two games for us, and there is another big game on Friday.

``It has been knockout rugby for us since we lost to South Africa.

``We've been through so many emotions as a squad since the South Africa game.

``We are a team that has been playing below its potential, and it was important we showed our hand in this World Cup.

``We made a couple of mistakes, but we had to keep our structure and we responded well. When a team is under pressure, it's how the team comes out of it.''

And head coach Brian Ashton said: ``We have still got a hell of a lot of hard work to do. Both teams have a six-day turnaround, and it is going to be a fight to the death on Friday night.

``This was a step in the right direction. Hopefully, it will give the whole squad a boost of confidence that can show the way to better things.

``At 26-22, the game could have gone either way, but we grasped it again by the scruff of the neck and scored two tries in the end.

``I thought there was a lot of courage in the performance.''

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