In this week's build up to England's important clash with Ireland at Twickenham some people have been questioning Jonny Wilkinson's position as England's number 10. Ridiculous. Wilko is the all-time leading International point scorer and two uninspiring England performances in this years Six Nations tournament does not warrant such a rash suggestions.
England's backs have certainly not been firing on all cylinders but the blame does not have to lie with Wilkinson. He is a superb all-round player and although he is not on the top of his form his quality is such that he warrants plenty of time to correct that. He may not be getting any younger but he has regularly been England's saviour and when he is at his best he gives the team a world-class quality that no one else in the squad can.
The backs that he is playing with are all new to International rugby and are not a set of players that have played together often. A fortnight ago was the first time that Jonny and Flutey had played together. This lack of playing time explains why they have failed to act as a dangerous or cohesive unit. Wilkinson has always had big names playing outside of him that currently aren't there as Matt Dawson has been quick to point out. This lack of experience or quality amongst the other backs should be deflected in criticism of Wilkinson. Jonny has not relied on these people but to say he has been more successful when playing with better players is a self-explanatory argument.
I would personally point to Martin Johnson as being responsible for the poor performances of the side. His managerial inexperience is reflected in a team that seems to lack direction and to take Wilkinson out of the team would only exacerbate these problems. Problems with backs standing too deep or not running the right lines are things that are fixed or changed on the training ground. The finger should not be pointed at Jonny. Fortunately, I have little doubt that Wilkinson will continue as fly-half, barring injury or a truly horrific performance.
Claims that he should be dropped are rubbish. They come from the same people who enjoy, and make a career out of, building up and then dragging back down England's sporting heroes. Even if his kicking and attacking play has not been up to his usual impeccably high standards Wilkinson is definitely the player I would trust to wear England's number 10 shirt, for the near future at least.
Needless to say that I have far less faith in Martin Johnson's ability to lead England away from their current unimaginative and somewhat ineffective style of rugby.