World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson believes England were “inspired” in their stunning display against New Zealand to set up another tilt at global glory. Sixteen years after Wilkinson’s dramatic drop-goal secured England’s first World Cup triumph, the class of 2019 will emulate that achievement if they beat South Africa on Saturday.
On the back of ending New Zealand’s 12-year unbeaten World Cup record, England are firm favourites to lift the trophy in Yokohama. “The difference between the two teams in the first five minutes was that it seemed the England team was inspired by an excitement about the unknown,” said Wilkinson, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, official worldwide partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.
“And I think New Zealand, always being the favourites, were a little bit threatened by the unknown. It [the final] is about going out and starting again. It’s a one-week journey, not the end of a three-month journey. It’s the start of a one-week journey, and you just happen to have an amazing amount of information in your back pack which has come from all these games.
“But if you start thinking this is the end of a long journey, it just gets slower and slower. That game (New Zealand) looked for me like a one-off. This game also has to be a one-off. And I think the coaches are great at creating an environment where the players feel fresh, renewed, still connected to their learnings, but not just weighed down by them.
“Every player dominated his area of the game in terms of what he is supposed to do and you get a machine that looks very well oiled. It was inspired.”
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South Africa showed in their semi-final win over Wales how effective they can be, though, and Wilkinson readily acknowledges their threat. “They are a very smothering team, they really get around you and make you think the pitch is tiny,” he added. “They make you feel like there are 20 of them.
“And they are enormously explosive, which means that very, very small moments can turn into big moments. A little dropped ball here, you get caught behind the gain-line, a big hit, and all of a sudden, within two seconds they have piled over the ruck, got the ball and they are 50-60 metres downfield.
“And they can dominate a momentum change like that. It’s important England manage those moments, but at the same time you don’t want to get into an arm-wrestle with these guys like Wales did. It’s very difficult when you are in a tight game to branch out and start getting into a wider game. When you are in a wider game, you can always bring it in.
'I go into schools a lot and those kids need to be able to look up and identify with it. Rugby union has sort of a middle class (appeal)'
– @LandRoverRugby ambassador @Jason15Robinson on @EnglandRugby, @rugbyworldcup and finding the next generationhttps://t.co/b8pYYQF1er
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 12, 2019
“When you are in and stuck in and think about trying to get out, it’s a difficult shift, and when you go there it can often be dangerous because you end up making big mistakes. They need to have a balance and variety about their game, and need to maintain their discipline hugely because there is a goal-kicker in their team (Handre Pollard) who punishes.”
England required extra time to beat Australia and win the 2003 World Cup, and while Wilkinson is reluctant to make comparisons between then and now, he knows from first hand experience what such a huge week is all about. “The players all have huge goals and ambitions about winning and getting close to the opportunity to achieve that,” he said.
“All I can say from my experience is that when you get to the end, you would swap it in a heartbeat to go back into the middle of the performance that led to it. Performance is all that matters, and I think that is the key, bringing you back to that the whole time.”
– Press Association
WATCH: Billy Vunipola meets the media ahead of England’s World Cup final against South Africa
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