Wilkinson glad to be back
PA Sport
September 14, 2008

Newcastle fly-half Jonny Wilkinson admitted he was glad to be back after his 22-point haul helped the Falcons to a 32-22 victory over Northampton at Kingston Park.

The England and British Lions star marked his return from six months on the sidelines following shoulder surgery with a 100% kicking record, a 45-yard right-footed drop goal and a superb scoring pass for wing Ollie Phillips as the hosts produced a much-improved second-half display to recover from a 12-6 half-time deficit.

The 29-year-old was also pleased to come through the Guinness Premiership encounter with no discomfort from his shoulder.

''It was great to get stuck in and get that ability to hang in the game,'' said Wilkinson. ''It's a great feeling and it's what competing is all about. I love that feeling. 'I've been training everyday and enjoying being that little bit obsessed about wanting to do well and wanting to be the best I can be in the time I've got left.

Wilkinson was delighted to have helped the Falcons, tipped by many to be relegated at the end of the season, get off the mark after losing 14-9 at home to Sale in their season opener.

''The story of your season can be formed in the last seconds of games and if you keep getting on the wrong side (of the score) it can really drag you into the dirt,'' he added. ''So to get back in the changing room with everyone's heads up and plenty of smiles means we can now look forward to next week. I wasn't celebrating being back or anything like that, it was purely for the team," he said, when asked about his jubilant punching of the air as his last-minute drop goal flew over.

"We want to get off to this winning start, but last week we lost against a Sale team which had never won up here. That does hurt for the players and preys on them, but the story of your season is born on those last seconds of games. If you keep getting on the wrong side of them it can really drag you in to the dirt, and to get ahead like today is a real big thing.

"To be in that changing room with so many smiles, and with the whole squad looking forward to next week now, is what it's all about. It's been a long time since my last game here against Leicester in May, especially given that I didn't touch any of the pre-season games at all this year, but it's good to be back.

"It's great to be part of a team effort where all the guys really stick in together, and that feeling at the end, being in the changing room with the boys after a win, is what it's all about. I love that feeling, everybody involved with sport does, and we just need to keep it up now."

Adding spark to the Falcons late on after a tepid opening half, Wilkinson said: "It's tough to try and put pace on games where there's a lot of hesitation to keep the ball in hand.

"There is a lot of demand to get down in to the right areas of the field, and that's difficult these days with the way teams are defending and leaving a lot of numbers there at the back. It does turn in to a kicking war, and maybe some of that territorial ambition from us was a bit ill-placed today.

"We want to get numbers one to fifteen involved in the game, inject a bit of pace and excitement, but let's not forget that Northampton are a very good team as well, in fact one of the best around in terms of keeping the ball in play."

On his perfect kicking display, and that dramatic drop goal, he added: "I wasn't quite sure about that one - I just looked at the opportunity and thought if it goes over then it's two scores up and pretty much game over.

"On the other hand if it had missed I was giving the ball straight to a Northampton side which was running riot at the time, and it's one of those where in a split second you have to weigh up all of those factors in your head. I think maybe the 'new me' needs to take those sorts of risks, but I was blowing on it as it got close to the crossbar!

"You never quite know which way it's going to go, but all you can do is practice hard and hope that when the whistle goes you become that game version of yourself as opposed to what you've done in training. You just need to focus on the ball and hope that it does the rest. Thankfully for us today it did."

Passing the full 80 minutes with a clean bill of health, he stated: "There's a few bumps and bruises, as you would expect from a physical game like that, but on the whole I'm pretty good.

"For me that's quite a rare thing to be able to say these days, but when I wake up tomorrow morning I don't think there's going to be anything that will surprise me, no torn kidney or other vital organs!"

Visibly more relaxed and revelling in his return to fitness, he revealed: "There's no real change to my regime, apart from longer hair. It was actually so long that I had to cut it myself before the game today, because it kept getting in my eyes!

"I've taken a good holiday over the summer, done my usual thing of trying to have a break but ending up training every day, but then everyone knows by now that I enjoy being a bit obsessed about wanting to do well."

Insisting that the mood at Kingston Park is a buoyant one despite potshots being taken in certain sections of the national media, he added: "All the messages around the team at Newcastle here right now are very positive, and that's what radiates to us as players.

"Internally everyone is feeling good and positive, even if some on the outside aren't, but we'll just stick with that message and keep making progress."

Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder also paid tribute to Wilkinson after he handed his side their first defeat since their return to the Guinness Premiership.

''You know when Jonny is on the field he is going to make any mistakes pay and he certainly did that,'' he said.

''We had a chance to win today but we didn't deserve it. In the first half we put the ball in behind them and put pressure on them, which we had talked about, but we simply made too many errors in the second half.

''We're very disappointed and we need to improve before we face Wasps next week.''

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