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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 09:50 GMT
Shouldering Wilko's burden
By Jonathon Moore
Rugby union editor

Jonny Wilkinson is prone to neck and shoulder problems
Wilkinson is prone to injuring his AC joint
Forget David Beckham's metatarsal, a new injury has the nation talking in 2004.

England's World Cup hero, Jonny Wilkinson, made his anticipated comeback from a fractured facet in his shoulder against Northampton in January.

But after three successful penalties and just 50 minutes of action, he found himself in the all-too-familiar position of trudging off early, nursing a bruised and battered body.

As he left the field, head bowed in frustration, he joined a host of other England stars on the sidelines, including Bath centre Mike Tindall and Leicester prop Julian White - both of whom are set to miss the Six Nations.

But it is Wilkinson's propensity to pick up injuries around his neck and shoulder that will cause England fans to lose the most sleep.

X-rays have since showed that Wilkinson has not suffered another fracture. Rather, he has sustained more damage to the tissue around the AC joint in his shoulder.

It is not the first time England's points machine has been laid low by such an injury, nor is it likely to be the last.

The 24-year-old also suffers from unusually thin casing around his spinal cord, which makes him susceptible to what he regularly calls "stingers" - electrical jolts down his back and arms - after hard tackles.

The injury is an unfortunate one for a rugby player renowned for putting in some of the biggest hits on the park.

And it was just such a tackle, on Northampton wing Jon Clarke, during the 23-19 victory, which resulted in Wilkinson's latest blow.

Jonny's injury could be intermittent which makes it very difficult to nail it down
Conditioning coach Mike Antoniades
"The truth of the matter is that if Jonny's problem is not muscular it's neural, coming from the nerve endings" says conditioning coach Mike Antoniades, who nursed Tim Henman back to health after his shoulder injury.

"I've dealt with a lot of shoulder problems over the years and if its intermittent, as it seems to be, it makes it very difficult to nail down.

"But there's no doubt he's strong enough to cope and nine times out of 10, elite athletes are always carrying some sort of injury."

Wilkinson's tackle on Clarke was all too reminiscent of his thunderous collision with Australian centre Elton Flatley during the World Cup final.

That, too, left Wilkinson lying prone - and probably resulted in the fracture to his shoulder.

With so much at stake, he played on in Sydney and memorably kicked England to victory.

Jonny Wilkinson suffers problems during the World Cup final
Wilkinson suffered for his art during the World Cup final
Against Saints, caution took precedence and after five full minutes of treatment on the pitch, he was finally led off to rapturous applause.

His latest injury will certainly have pushed the patience of Newcastle director of rugby Rob Andrew to the limit.

The last time Wilkinson had run out in Newcastle colours was May 2003, when he helped his side stay in the Premiership with a 26-22 victory over Saracens.

The worry, both for the Falcons and England, is how much longer Wilkinson's shoulder will hold out.

As far back as 2001, prior to travelling down under with the Lions, he complained of pains in his left shoulder.

The tour left him with little time to recuperate and he struggled badly as a result, suffering numerous similar problems during the 2002 season.

England coach Clive Woodward has always been quick to point out that his side does not revolve around - nor rely on - one player.

But only the most blinkered England fan would play down Wilkinson's influence on both the scoreboard and the players around him.

No broken bone for Wilkinson
28 Dec 03  |  English
Six Nations blow for Tindall
28 Dec 03  |  English
Hill faces four weeks out
23 Dec 03  |  English

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