Flyhalf Wilkinson issues Argentina alert

Jonny Wilkinson has told England to be on their guard when they continue their November international series against Argentina at Twickenham this weekend.

The flyhalf marked his return to Test duty from his latest injury lay-off by kicking all of England’s points in their 18-9 home loss to Australia last Saturday.

Wilkinson is well-placed to assess the worth of the Pumas following a pre-season move to French club Toulon where he now plays alongside Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, as well as the back-row’s compatriots Felipe Contepomi and Esteban Lozada.

“You watch these guys train and think they are world-class players and you think ‘thank God they are on my side’,” said Wilkinson, who on Saturday produced some typically thumping tackles when Australia were threatening England’s try-line.

“Unfortunately that will not be the case this week,” Wilkinson whose last ditch drop-goal off his weaker, right, foot sealed England’s 2003 World Cup final win over Australia, added.

For his part, Fernandez Lobbe is well aware of the advantage England gain from having a fully fit Wilkinson back in their line-up after rugby union’s record international points scorer was sidelined for 18 months with a dislocated knee cap.

“Whenever he plays, he is so influential,” Fernandez Lobbe said.

“He is a world-class player and I am so happy to be allowed to play alongside him at Toulon. He is an amazing guy, an example you will always follow to try to get better.

“I still have in my head him kicking a drop goal with his right foot in extra-time in the final of the World Cup. If you can do that, you are made for rugby,” Fernandez Lobbe insisted.

“He is really good in defence and that is something that puts him up there with the greatest.”

Injury-hit England have slipped back to eighth in the world rankings and manager Martin Johnson has now overseen seven defeats in 12 Test matches.

But Argentina coach Santiago Phelan refuses to subscribe to the theory that England, who didn’t score a try against Australia and rarely looked like doing so, are there for the taking at Twickenham this Saturday.

Instead he believes his side will have to be at their best if they are to start their three-match European tour with a victory.

“We are playing England, with all their history and their players,” said Phelan.
“I don’t look at world rankings or anything like that—if you are playing England at Twickenham, it doesn’t matter if they are first or last in the rankings.

“And I thought they played well against Australia. I think people were expecting them to beat Australia and their first half was very good. But in Australia, they were playing an excellent team themselves.

“Anyway, we are just concentrating on the Argentina team now, because we haven’t played together for six months.”

Following their exploits at the 2007 World Cup, when they finished third, Argentina are now dining at world rugby’s top table.

They have been invited to join Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in an expanded Four Nations tournament from 2012 and still have one of the toughest and most experienced packs around.

Phelan maintains, however, that Argentina, like England, are a team in transition and believes this tour will be crucial to their development.

“What we did in 2007 was excellent but that is finished,” Phelan said.

“We have different players and different coaches. We don’t think about 2007, we think about 2011.

“The players want to stay at this level but the problem is we don’t play enough. So our ambition is to come here and play our best rugby, make little steps forward and keep growing.

“We will then see at the World Cup how we get on.”

Argentina centre Gonazalo Tiesi, who plays for English Premiership side Harlequins, expects England to come out all guns blazing on Saturday.

“Against Australia, they got beaten in the contact area and got beaten in the physicality,” Tiesi said. “That will hurt their pride.”—AFP

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