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'It's what needed to happen': Wilkinson's message to bruised England side

By Ben Smith
Kyle Sinckler, Alex Dombrandt, Max Malins, Jack van Poortvliet and Jamie George of England look dejected during the Six Nations Rugby match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on March 11, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England’s legendary flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson has offered a philosophical view of the 53-10 defeat at the hands of defending Grand Slam champions France.


The World Cup-winning No 10s perspective comes from personal experience after Wilkinson was involved in previous heavy defeats, suffering a 76-0 loss to Australia in 1998 and a 58-10 loss to South Africa in 2007.

In both cases England rebounded from the losses to have success, winning one World Cup in 2003 and making the final in the other 2007.

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Wilkinson believed that the defeat will help the side reach the bottom from which they can shed themselves of false beliefs, allowing for a re-birth to occur following a mindset change.

His personal experience from the defeat to the Wallabies ended up as a ‘cleansing opportunity’ which enabled him to experience growth as a player.

“It’s really interesting because it’s what needs to happen, there is no other way around it,” Wilkinson explained to the ITV post-game show.

“It’s not a wrong turn, it’s not the end of the path, this is the path.


“In that 1998 game for me it was a real cleansing opportunity to realise the story of who I thought I was could no longer carry on.

“It was almost forced to change. And in that change I found brand new possibility.”

The former England flyhalf also didn’t think this meant that success is years away, pointing to his experience in 2007 leading to his second World Cup final appearance.

England were heavily beaten in the summer by the Springboks in South Africa and returned to face them at that year’s World Cup.


“In Bloemfontein in 2007, yes in the summer there we lost a game by 50 points, within three months we were in a World Cup final,” he recalled.

“It doesn’t mean ‘oh this means years and years of this’, it has to happen. It’s a massive humility check in all kinds of ways.

“Not that those guys are arrogant but it is realising that an evolution needs to take place and it is a huge learning experience.

“If there is that desire and intention to push on, it will turn into something bigger and better.

“However long that takes, I don’t know. Which players will be there and which won’t, I don’t know.”


It doesn’t get any easier for England who have to face Ireland next week, the world’s current number one ranked side and favourites to complete a Grand Slam.

They will travel to Dublin to face Andy Farrell’s side at home which could be a ceremonious occasion should Ireland defeat Scotland on Sunday.

Despite the result against France, Wilkinson believed the team will feel less burdened now that the worst has happened.

“I think that team will come out lighter next time on the field,” he said.

“They’ll feel more bouncy on their feet. They won’t feel heavier because of this defeat.

“In that Ireland game I think there will be a freshness in the team.

“They can say ‘yeah okay let’s stop pretending’ and give it a crack.”


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