Wallabies aim to nullify Wilkinson threat

The Wallabies are focusing on blunting the effectiveness of Jonny Wilkinson in their crunch Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Marseilles on Saturday to ensure there is no repeat of his match-winning heroics for England in the 2003 final.

The masterful flyhalf has steadied England after their rocky start to the tournament and the Australians see him as one of the main players they must shut down for them to progress at the World Cup.

The Australians have analysed England’s game and have identified Wilkinson and the nimble-footed Jason Robinson, if he plays, as the defending champions’ main attacking threats.

It was Wilkinson who broke Australians’ hearts with his drop goal in extra time to win England their first World Cup crown in Sydney four years ago and he is again England’s go-to man.

“You want to take down his time, put him under pressure and pressure his kicking game,” Wallaby defence coach John Muggleton said on Tuesday.

“What we want to do is cut down his time so he has to set himself a little deeper and make it harder for his forwards to get back over the advantage line and break square.

“If we can do that then we have gone a little way to nullifying their forwards.”

Muggleton, who has been part of the Wallabies coaching set-up since 1997, said it was imperative for Australia to protect the halfway line as if it was their own tryline to keep England out of points-scoring range.

“When he’s [Wilkinson] having a shot at drop goal he’s so confident that he can afford to get that little bit deeper and give himself that extra time,” he said.

“We’re going to make sure that space is something that England don’t get.

“We have to respect the halfway line virtually as our tryline. We don’t want to let them get in our half and have the opportunity to kick penalty goals and keep the scoreboard ticking over.

“We have to muscle up, from their goal-line to our goal-line, rather than having that on-line defence, which we’re pretty good at.”

Robinson, the only England back rated as “world-class” by Australia’s Lote Tuqiri, has returned to full training after a strained hamstring that forced him out of the wins over Samoa and Tonga.

The light-stepping fullback, who scored England’s only try in their 20-17 World Cup final win in Sydney, is tagged as another potential match-winner by the Wallabies.

“I’ve said this about a few players, but Robinson can beat you in a phone booth, I mean he’s got great feet,” Wallaby backs coach Scott Johnson said.

“The reality is he is a world-class player in both codes and he’s transferred well [from rugby league].

“He’s a great threat with the ball in hand and not many people are better in bringing the ball back [from kicks].”

Muggleton said the key to playing Robinson was to kick the ball to where he doesn’t want it in a game.

“It’s a big difference if you kick to where Robinson wants to receive the ball and you have a forwards’ chase rather than kicking to where he doesn’t want to have it and he’s under pressure and he’s contested,” he said.

“Every player is good when they get the opportunity, you just have to resist giving them the opportunity they want.”—Sapa-AFP


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