Wilkinson Warning: We Must Not Freeze like We Did in '99
Byline: LUKE BENEDICT reports from Dunedin
MARTIN JOHNSON has used the memory of a freezing night in Newcastle to warn his beleaguered players how quickly their World Cup hopes can come crashing down.
The England manager recalled the wild night from over a decade ago during an honesty session in which the team reviewed their scrappy, indisciplined victory over Georgia.
Twelve years ago Johnson, as the captain of England, should have been playing Australia at Twickenham in a glamorous home World Cup semi-final. Instead, he was grinding out a 12-12 draw in a Leicester shirt in front of 2,000 frozen spectators at Kingston Park.
Jonny Wilkinson knows how he feels, having played alongside his captain for England, then against him as a club adversary, on consecutive weekends in 1999. It was the last time England failed to reach a World Cup final and yesterday the fly-half shuddered at the memory.
Wilkinson said: 'Johnno talked about watching the 1999 World Cup semi-final on TV and then going out to play Newcastle away. I know what he was talking about because he was playing against me that day.
'We got knocked out in the quarter-finals (by South Africa) and the next week, the weekend of the semi-final, was possibly one of the coldest, rainiest days we had at Newcastle and we were playing against Leicester.'
Wilkinson has since swapped rainy Newcastle for sunny Toulon but the lesson has stuck with him all these years. 'Johnno's right, that's how it works,' he added. 'If you don't get these things right then there comes a time when you say, "We've got to be better next time" during the analysis session and "next time" is four months along the line in the Six Nations, it's not next week.
'Sooner or later "next week" doesn't appear for a team in the World Cup. We just have to make sure we don't leave ourselves in that position.'
Having missed four consecutive penalties against Argentina the last time he put on an England shirt, Wilkinson is expected to return to the starting line-up to face Romania on Saturday. His remit is to get England's stuttering attack firing against the lowest-ranked side the team will face in this tour-nament and he knows it is time to let his boots do the talking.
'I don't really understand World Cups even though I've played in a few, but they are do or die,' he said. 'After the 36-0 defeat against South Africa in 2007 we had to beat Samoa and Tonga in the next two games or we'd have gone home. You can't afford to miss a game.
'It's just about being accountable. Believe me, in the meetings guys are quick to put their hands up and say "that's me" and "that's not good enough" or "I shouldn't have done that".
'There is no money pot, no laps of the field if you make mistakes; the punishment is basically looking at the other 14 guys who are working their backsides off. It's the feeling that you've put those guys in a more difficult position, that you've made the game harder. …