Jonny Wilkinson was in strong form this week, and without even sticking a boot on grass.

The 90-test World Cup winner of 2003 has been playing for Toulon for a couple of years. He tookhis turn with the various media this week.

First English television, then the French equivalent, no translator required; radio interviews in both languages, then 20 minutes to print reporters, again in both tongues.

Impressive stuff. All done with equal facility, patience and without a hint of "Gawd, not this one again". Few players can do that.


On the field, it's been rather different. The 32-year-old famous for his masterly kicking precision has been well short of his usual standards, nailing just nine of 20 shots so far.

France await tonight, and Wilkinson has Toby Flood alongside him at second five-eighths; indeed Flood might even get first dibs on the goalkicking (his numbers are superior at the cup), but you wouldn't put your shirt on it.

Wilkinson had to think hard to remember the few games he's started for England when he was not first choice kicker. It's been a while.

"The whole thing about having Toby there is hugely reassuring, less in terms of this whole safety net [issue], more in terms of knowing there's always someone making decisions," Wilkinson said. "If I'm in a ruck or right at the back of the field and decisions need to be made quickly, he's there."

The relationship between the two, master and apprentice - albeit one with 45 test caps - goes back to Flood's days at Kings School in Tynemouth, 12km from Newcastle.

Wilkinson did some coaching there in his early days with the Newcastle club.

"I was helping coach their team and recognised immediately he was the team's go-to guy, and a good one at that." he said. "He was enormously comfortable with the ball in his hands, moving off both feet, passing off both hands.

"The guy is getting better and better, maturing and becoming more accountable for everything he's doing. The future for English rugby, as long as he's around in that decision-making role, is in good hands."


Only Dan Carter's 1250 points sit above Wilkinson's 1244 for England and the Lions. He has been huge for England for so long.

His debut came 13 years ago. He didn't play a test between the end of 2003 and 2007 through injury, and now he's back for a fourth World Cup, and grateful for the chance.

Wilkinson will likely pass Carter again, but will doing so, perhaps retiring as top dog, give his ego a massage? Perish the thought.

"I've had most of my ego knocked out of me along the way," he said. "I've battled with that whole concept spiritually and physically as well. It's a great thing to have.

"It gives you a huge competitive nature that says 'I will not lie down, will not be beaten, I will not give up'.

"It's that competitive spirit that makes you try and stand up and smash the hell out of a big guy running at you, makes you get up when you get hurt.

"At the same time, ego in the wrong sense can stand in the way of everything, in terms of team spirit, dynamic and togetherness. It can be the worst thing in the world."

It is unlikely Wilkinson would have thought of 2011 during those dark post-2003 years.

But his view on playing in the tournament is intriguing. There would be strong support for it being better to have contested and fallen short, than not have made the journey. Wilkinson's take is different.

"It's an absolute joy," Wilkinson said of being at the cup.

"The privilege and honour of being selected is enormous. But very soon after it happens, you realise it's desperately empty unless you perform in that role and make the most of it.

"If you don't, it actually becomes in retrospect even more disappointing than not being selected."

Wilkinson remains a seriously driven man on his last lap around the World Cup circuit, as the French may discover tonight.