Skip to main content

England drop Wilkinson for Ireland clash

  • Story Highlights
  • Jonny Wilkinson dropped by England for Six Nations match against Ireland
  • Wilkinson's place at fly-half taken by Danny Cipriani who will make his debut
  • Newcastle's Wilkinson was criticized after Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland
  • Wales opt for James Hook over Stephen Jones at fly-half for France decider
  • Next Article in World Sport »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

LONDON, England -- Rugby superstar Jonny Wilkinson has been dropped by England for their final Six Nations match of the season against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.


A dejected Wilkinson could find little inspiration in the mud of Murrayfield.

Wilkinson is replaced at fly-half by 20-year-old Danny Cipriani, paying the price for a below-par display in England's disappointing 15-9 Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland last weekend.

Cipriani, seen as the heir apparent to Wilkinson, was due to make his debut at full-back in the Scotland match but was left out by coach Brian Ashton after being seen outside a London night-spot after midnight last Thursday.

Wilkinson pledged to bounce back from the setback, however.

"I would never walk around thinking I am going to get dropped or I am not good enough, because I don't believe either," Wilkinson said. "I would also never be arrogant enough to think I would always be picked either.

"Absolutely, the fire is still there. One thing that will never change is that I will never stop going out there every day and trying to get better."

Ashton said Wilkinson had lost his reliable form.

"Jonny's not been as consistent in this tournament as he had in the latter stages of the World Cup," he explained. "His form has gone up and down.

"He's not been made a scapegoat because he's in the squad. He's covering 10, he's covering 12, so he's a valuable part of the squad."

Cipriani, the 20-year-old Wasps flyhalf, now gets his chance with Iain Balshaw retained at fullback.

"I don't treat anyone as special players," Ashton said. "It's just another selection decision that needed to be made."

Wilkinson, the hero of England's 2003 World Cup triumph, battled back from a string of injuries to play a prominent role in their passage to the 2007 final where they lost to South Africa.

His place in the England side came under question after an opening round defeat to Wales in the Six Nations.

But he was back to his best in the victory in France which revived England's hopes in the championship and broke Neil Jenkins' world Test points record of 1090 for Wales and the Lions at Murrayfield when he kicked the first of three successful penalties against Scotland.

But his general play, notably tactical direction and kicking from hand, fell way below standard, leaving Ashton with little option but to consider fly-half alternatives.

Ashton himself is under intense pressure, but has resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes with Wilkinson the only casualty from the starting line-up.

There are two changes on the bench, where fit-again flanker James Haskell takes over from Luke Narraway and Wilkinson features instead of Charlie Hodgson, but Ashton has stopped there.

Wilkinson's counterpart Ronan O'Gara, Ireland's leading scorer and eighth on the all-time test points list, was handed the captaincy after 81 caps when skipper Brian O'Driscoll was ruled out with a hamstring tear after the 16-12 loss to Wales last Saturday.

Paul O'Connell has usually deputized for O'Driscoll, but coach Eddie O'Sullivan felt the lock needed to concentrate on playing in his comeback from a back injury. O'Gara, who has been leading Munster in O'Connell's absence, sympathized for his teammate.

"This was the ideal chance for me to get the nod because Brian is injured and Paulie is probably one or two games from being at the level he wants because of the back injury," O'Gara said.

"I was half hoping to be named captain but I didn't expect to get it. I'm thrilled, delighted and very honored. It's a massive opportunity, a massive challenge.

"I don't know how many times I'll do it so I intend to make the most of this and hopefully put in a performance that the country is proud of."

Geordan Murphy was chosen at fullback, subject to another fitness test on Thursday for his sore Achilles. In hope that Murphy comes through, Rob Kearney was restored to his regular left wing spot and Tommy Bowe switched back to the right wing.

Andrew Trimble was moved one out to center in place of O'Driscoll, who will be out for up to four weeks, and Shane Horgan was brought into the midfield.

England: Iain Balshaw, Paul Sackey, Jamie Noon, Toby Flood, Lesley Vainikolo, Danny Cipriani, Richard Wigglesworth; Andrew Sheridan, Lee Mears, Phil Vickery (captain), Simon Shaw, Steve Borthwick, Tom Croft, Michael Lipman, Nick Easter. Replacements: George Chuter, Matt Stevens, Ben Kay, James Haskell, Paul Hodgson, Jonny Wilkinson, Mathew Tait.

Ireland: Geordan Murphy, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Shane Horgan, Rob Kearney, Ronan O'Gara (captain), Eoin Reddan; Marcus Horan, Rory Best, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, James Heaslip. Replacements: Bernard Jackman, Tony Buckley, Mick O'Driscoll, Simon Easterby, Peter Stringer, Paddy Wallace, Luke Fitzgerald.

Wales, who will win the Grand Slam if they beat France at the Millenium Stadium on Saturday, have opted for James Hook in place of Stephen Jones at fly-half.

Coach Warren Gatland's other change from Saturday's 16-12 Triple Crown victory over Ireland in Dublin is the return of hooker Huw Bennett, who missed out at Croke Park after contracting flu.

In Gatland's first season in charge, Wales has already won the Triple Crown of victories over the three home nations after the team came from behind to beat the Irish 16-12 in Dublin.

"We have an historic opportunity and we intend to grasp it with both hands," said Gatland, who also had a spell in charge of Ireland between 1998-2001.

"We have afforded ourselves the luxury of bringing in James Hook for the different qualities he will offer in this match, but we have pretty much said 'same again' to the boys that brought home the silverware on Saturday," Gatland said.

"Stephen Jones will offer us the benefit of his vast experience from the bench and he is one of a number of players who can come on and change the game for us if necessary."

Wales: Lee Byrne, Mark Jones, Tom Shanklin, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams, James Hook, Michael Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Huw Bennett, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Alun-Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas, Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones (captain). Replacements: Matthew Rees, Duncan Jones, Ian Evans, Gareth Delve, Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones, Sonny Parker. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print