category: rugby news

The Jonny Factor

Dan Retief17/10/07

Only one reason is being offered why England should be able to turn a 36-0 defeat on September 14 into a victory over the Springboks on October 20 – Jonny Wilkinson.
The obsession of the British Press with Wilkinson, he has literally been described as the blond Messiah, is nauseating. Millions of words have been expended on his injuries and now that England have defied the odds by reaching the World Cup Final the pitch is right back to where it was in Australia in 2003.

There has been some talk of how the England team did some soul-searching and changed their style of play, even though one form of pick-and-go is much like any other, but the masses are informed, ad nauseum, that if England are to retain the Webb Ellis Cup it will be down to the Jonny Factor.

The man himself remains a shy introvert whose media sessions resemble mass psychology consultations, but the late penalty followed by what has been quite a rare dropped goal to knock France out of the tournament have once again made him the shining knight on a white steed who will slay the Springboks.

And, it has to be said, the Springbok camp have themselves fanned the flames of Wilkomania.

Jake White has made constant references to the fact that Wilkinson was absent when the Boks thrashed England in their pool match and Eddie Jones, whose Wallabies lost to a last-gasp dropped goal by Sir Jonny in Sydney in 2003, also had the Brits swooning when he spoke admiringly of the qualities of the blond flyhalf.

You have to admire the stoic battle that saw Wilkinson return from a cruel run of injuries to almost every part of his body that raised the spectre that he would never play again to once again be a key figure in a World Cup, but it is my contention that he is not the threat he once was.

In England’s quarterfinal against Australia he attempted three dropped goals and landed none and also missed three out of seven penalties.

In the semifinal against France he landed one out of three attempted dropped goals and missed two out of four place-kicks.

His line-kicking is definitely weaker and it has been noticeable how he roves all over the place, inter-changing with Mike Catt, probably as a defensive measure, and is hardly the executioner who slices up the opposition from behind the big white battering ram in front of him.

To my mind England will be better with Wilkinson in their line-up but the biggest threat to the Boks remains their powerful scrum, anchored by Andrew Sheridan, and their ability to take control of the ball through numerous phases to ensure that they are in a favourable field position when they are able to “milk” penalties – the inevitable outcome of a team being forced to make numerous tackles or trying to stop the trundling maul.

This would suggest that the key men on the field could well be Springbok tighthead props CJ van der Linde and Jannie du Plessis. England, in a throw-back to the days of yore, will be out to make their mark in the scrum and if the Bok frontrow, with the help of the rest, manage to halt the juggernaut their greater skill, pace and variety on attack will almost certainly carry them to victory.

In the glow of that 36-0 victory it was easy to gloss over but let’s not forget that in the second half on that night at Stade de France the England scrum was well on top and that they dominated the ball retention count by a ratio of slightly better than 3 to 1.

Mike Catt, standing in at flyhalf, had a horrendous game and there is little doubt that Wilkinson will put the ball to better use.

So it will be down to the scrum. Stop England there, shake their confidence and then drive home the advantage with speed and better use of the ball.

Le Journal de la Coupe de Monde

There have been, and will be more, intriguing milestones on the road to the World Cup Final. Here are some:

The Springboks were the only unbeaten team on the way to the final. They accounted for:

Samoa 59-7
England 36-0
Tonga 30-25
USA 64-15
Fiji 37-20
Argentina 37-13

England got there as follows:

USA 28-10
South Africa 0-36
Samoa 44-22
Tonga 36-20
Australia 12-10
France 14-9

If South Africa win they’ll make it three in row over England at the Stade de France in Rugby World Cup action. In the quarterfinal in 1999 they triumphed 44-21 (the test in which Jannie de Beer kicked a world record five dropped goals); which with the 36-0 victory in the Pool stages of this year’s tournament gives them a pretty impressive aggregate.

It is now apparent that the Boks’ 25-14 victory over England at Twickenham in their last game of 2006 was a watershed occasion. That win halted a run of seven successive defeats and if they win on Saturday they’ll extend their current run to five wins in a row.

The Boks go into the Final with both the top points scorer, Percy Montgomery on 93, and leading try-scorer, Bryan Habana on eight, in the tournament in their ranks.

The Boks, with 33, have recorded the second most tries in the tournament. The All Blacks ran in an amazing 48 tries before being sent packing by France in their quarterfinal in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
In reaching the Final England have scored just 12 tries; and only one in their two playoff matches.

England have repeated their feat of being the only side to lose a match in the Pool stages but still qualify for the Final. In 1991 they lost to New Zealand in the opening game but reached the Final against Australia and, of course, this year they lost to the Springboks.

Francois Steyn (Born 14 May 1987) at 20 years and 159 days will be the youngest player ever to take part in a Rugby World Cup Final.

Os du Randt (Born 8 September 1972) will not be the oldest player on the field – a distinction which will, ironically, belong to another South African Mike Catt (Born 17 September 1971). Believe it or not both Mark Regan and Lawrence Dallaglio, two stalwarts of “Dad’s Army”, also give Os a couple of months.

During the 2007 tournament Jonny Wilkinson, currently on 243, passed Scotland’s Gavin Hastings (227) as the most prolific points-scorer in RWC history.

At 10am on Wednesday, October 17, the IRB announced that every available ticket for the Final had been sold.

Alain Rolland will become the first Irishman and just the fifth referee to referee a Rugby World Cup Final on Saturday night. The others have been Kerry Fitzgerald (Australia, 1987), Derek Bevan (Wales, 1991), Ed Morrison (England, 1995) and André Watson (South Africa, 1999 & 2003).

Grey College in Bloemfontein has for the second time achieved the remarkable feat of having five former pupils in a Springbok RWC squad – CJ van der Linde, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Steyn and Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis. At the 1999 RWC Grey College also had five Springboks - Naka Drotske, Ruben Kruger, Ollie le Roux, Pieter Muller and Werner Swanepoel. But listen to this. The victorious 1987 All Black RWC team had four players - the Whetton brothers (Alan and Gary, John Kirwan and Grant Fox – who had been to the same school, Auckland Grammar High, which was founded by the same man, Sir George Grey, who established South Africa’s two Greys, College in Bloem and High in Port Elizabeth.

“He scores tries other people don’t even dream about.” – Eddie Jones on Bryan Habana.

Percy Montgomery is like George Gregan – he’s the ultimate professional.” – Jones on South Africa’s other kingpin.

DAN RETIEF - | Wednesday, 17 October 2007 | Comment on this article

Dan Retief

The Jonny Factor 17/10/07
Time of the Galácticos 23/9/07
Average JO must go 17/9/07
Can history repeat itself? 6/9/07
Who will win the World Cup? 22/8/07
The spy in from the Reds 31/7/07
Painting it All Black 24/7/07

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