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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 November, 2003, 12:27 GMT
Wilkinson's way to glory

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

England's Jonny Wilkinson lines up a kick at goal
Wilkinson - the picture of concentration at the crucial moment
As England emerged triumphant from Saturday's World Cup final with Australia, one enduring image stands out from their victorious campaign.

It is the face of Jonny Wilkinson, a picture of concentration, eyes raised slightly upwards, staring intently at a spot in the distance.

Below, the arms are stretched out in front of him, hands clasped together like a praying mantis, his body slightly crouched, knees bent.

At that point, England's fly-half all-too often did what he does best and dispatched another kick at goal through the opposition uprights.

He went through the process 41 times in six matches at the World Cup, and was successful on 33 occasions.

The kicking routine is crucial to Wilkinson's game - as he revealed to BBC Sport in our exclusive Academy masterclass: "My stance has come from a physical and mental development where I've tried to learn relaxation techniques."

But while he immerses himself in his cocoon, he is not immune to the whistles and jeers that rain down from the stands in the world's more hostile arenas.

"People always tell you to shut it out, but I don't think you can," he says. "You don't close yourself off from the pressure.

"You just have to live with it, accept the fact it's there and function as normally as you would if it wasn't there."

At the last moment my mind is blank
Jonny Wilkinson
This is why Wilkinson is England's most potent weapon, and record points scorer.

He has been in this situation thousands of times before, out on the training pitch. He is prepared.

It is what psychologists call "situational training", allowing him to make even the most intimidating surroundings somehow familiar.

"When everything is going crazy around you and the nerves are attacking your confidence, it's important to keep everything exactly the same," Wilkinson explains.

And what gives the 24-year-old the confidence to go ahead and plant the ball between the sticks, sometimes in atrocious conditions, is that distinctive routine.

Place the ball on the kicking tee. Take four steps back, five to the side.

Create a right angle between the ball, your body and the posts.

Take one more step towards, look at the posts and pick an exact spot at which to aim, drawing an imaginary line from that point down to the ball.

Then a deep breath, one more check of the line, a purposeful stride forward, a plant of the right foot, let the left swing through the ball and - bang.

"At the last moment, my mind is blank. I have focused on where I want to hit it, to make sure my non-kicking foot's in position, and where my weight's going.

"It all comes together, but it has become almost second nature, almost subconscious."

More often than not, certainly over 80% of the time, the ball sails serenely between the uprights, bisecting the two.

Dave Alred and Jonny Wilkinson walk out to practice at the Telstra Stadium
Alred is a coach and companion
When it doesn't, he wants an explanation, and endeavours to work out why with his kicking coach Dave Alred.

Wilkinson admits he cannot sleep if he feels he has not done everything possible to ensure his next attempt during a match is successful.

The "cognitive distortions" - the irrational thoughts that can pop into a player's mind and affect his performance - may also have been at work this week.

They are manifested in an "all-or-nothing" mode of thinking, believing your work is a failure if it falls short of perfection.

Australia's multi-talented lock John Eales, who lifted the Webb Ellis trophy in 1999, was nicknamed "Nobody", because nobody's perfect.

But as England cavorted around Sydney's Telstra Stadium with the Webb Ellis Cup, they surely owed a huge debt of gratitude to the man striving to become the perfect 10.





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