Thursday, 9 October 2008

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes

Or perhaps I should say... shoulder, shoulder, shoulder, bicep, knee, knee , shoulder, appendix, groin, abductor muscle, knee, kidney, ankle, shoulder and kneecap.

I am, of course, referring to the litany of injuries that has befallen Jonny Wilkinson since the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. Much has been written in the press about his latest injury - a dislocated kneecap - which will keep him out of the November internationals.

BBC Five Live's Ian Robertson has even suggested that playing for the habitually underachieving Newcastle Falcons has meant that Jonny has been more exposed to the possibility of injury than if he was playing regularly in a more successful team with better players around him but I'm not one who subscribes to that particular theory.

No, in my view Wilkinson's injuries involve about 20% bad luck and 80% bad judgement. His latest injury occurred after he had launched himself into a ruck - a ruck he almost certainly could have and should have avoided. Wilkinson tends to play like a man possessed and always has done. I remember the 2003 World Cup quarter final against Wales when, to most observers, he had a poor game - except that, according to Clive Woodward, Wilkinson's tackling and rucking stats were some of the best in the team.

Put simply, tackling and rucking are not something a fly half should be seeking to do. Of course a fly half needs to defend his channel (we don't want Hodgson-esque defending after all) but Wilkinson seems to go out of his way to look for contact, and often against much bigger men - so it's hardly a surprise when he gets crocked. Playing in the colours of Leicester or Wasps or Toulouse would, I'm sure, make no difference.

What I'd like to see Jonny do is, where possible, avoid the heavy traffic and concentrate on managing the game from fly half. I've often had the somewhat sacrilegious thought that perhaps, by getting involved in the physical side of the game, Wilkinson is subconsciously abdicating his responsibilities as playmaker?

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