Wilkinson Retires From International Rugby

Jonny Wilkinson Retires

The great Jonny Wilkinson has retired from international rugby. 

Le Jonny has made a good decision at the right time. He recognizes that England both desperately need to – and can – move on from the incredibly long hangover from the 2003 World Cup victory of which he was the most visible figure.

Wilkinson making himself available for international duty would only have made Stuart Lancaster’s job harder. Lancaster is the recently installed English caretaker coach, and having to omit a legend of the game from his first squad would have placed him under huge pressure. He’s not a new coach with a new broom: he’s supposed to be a safe pair of hands to steady the ship while the RFU rights itself and appoints his long-term successor.

Wilkinson’s international retirement takes Lancaster out of the firing line. He won’t have to make any apologies for dropping Wilkinson and his omission won’t become a cause célèbre amongst a still-besotted English rugby media. Nor will he be tempted to include Wilkinson in the squad as a safety blanket, or even as the best available option.

Toby Flood has a strong claim, having put in good performances at No10 in their first victorious Six Nations campaign since 2003, but he has by no means nailed down the slot. He has talked in the recent past about how people’s regard for Wilkinson has affected him, and in truth he was unable to step out of le Jonny’s shadow at the World Cup and perform to the best of his ability. Wilkinson’s retirement will take that burden off his shoulders, but it won’t improve his goal-kicking percentage.

Charlie Hodgson has taken the reins at Saracens and runs a good back line, but he’s of roughly the same vintage as Wilkinson at 31 years old and has some widely-known weaknesses: he’s a serious liability in defense and is a pretty flakey goal kicker. He has played the role of Wilkinson’s successor before: the Mole remembers an absolutely extraordinary solo performance from him some time in the middle of the last decade when he beat South Africa pretty much on his own, notching a full-house of try, conversion, drop-goal and several penalties. Hodgson is a very nice passer of the ball, shows good recognition of where the holes are in opposition defenses, but one can’t help but feel that he’ll be excluded. Given the fact that he’s almost four years younger than Ronan O’Gara, that feels just a tad premature. With the likes of Tuilagi, Foden and Ashton outside him, a Hodgepodge-run backline could be a dangerous outfit.

Gloucester’s Freddie Burns is a decade younger than Hodgson and was a very composed player at U20 level for England. He enters the conversation because of this pedigree, and also because he’s holding down the starting No10 jersey for an English team in the Heineken Cup: nothing to be sniffed at for a 21 year old.

Ryan Lamb [25] and Steven Myler [27] share time at Northampton – at the moment, that’s no sort of recommendation. Northampton have lost three from three in this year’s Heineken Cup and are mid-table in the Aviva Premiership. Myler seems like an outhalf-by-numbers, a construct who doesn’t have any particular personality in his performances. He doesn’t really shape the game from outhalf, and lacks any outstanding skill suitable to his position – he’s not a brilliant tactical kicker, nor is he a great distributor, nor is he a great reader of the game, somebody who can read where the holes in the opposition defense are and exploit them through a variety of tactics.

Ryan Lamb [25] has been playing first class rugby since he was 20 years old; the counter argument to that is that he’s already on his third club. If things were going right with Lamb, there’s little doubt that he’d be a little less happy to move on. He’s obviously a talented lad in some aspects of the game, but questions rightly persist over his physicality and his big-match temperament.

Those are the four English-qualified out halves playing for English clubs who are competing in the Heineken Cup this year. The Premiership is awash with Johnny Foreigners in the No10 jersey: see the list below for details [clubs in bold are in the Heineken Cup]

NZ: Dan Bowden [London Irish], Stephen Donald [Bath], Nick Evans [Harlequins], Jimmy Gopperth [Newcastle],

English: Toby Flood [Leicester], Charlie Hodgson [Saracens]; Freddie Burns [Gloucester]; Ryan Lamb & Stephen Myler [both Northampton]; Joe Carlisle [Worcester]

Welsh: Nicky Robinson [Wasps]; Nick McLeod [Sale]

Irish: Gareth Steenson [Exeter]

Argentinian: Ignacio Mieres [Exeter]

* No, The Mole hasn’t forgotten Danny Cipriani

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