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  Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
England need 'Jonno The Great'

In his second exclusive column, Newcastle and England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson defends Martin Johnson against suggestions he should stand down as England captain.

One game down, one victory and what seems like 500 more matches to go.

I have to admit that I'm delighted, and a little relieved, to start my captaincy with a win. It's vital for me to earn the respect of my team.


An England squad without Martin Johnson is a much weaker team

We were made to work hard against Wasps, but we all pulled together and it means a great deal to me personally that we came away with a victory.

But more of that later.

Leeds' superb victory over Leicester was the result that made the big headlines on the weekend - and rightly so.

Many people wrote the Tykes off before the season had begun, but don't forget they defeated the Tigers last year at home.

It's clear that Phil Davies has done some great work pre-season and there's no better start than to win your first game against the best side in the league.

What they have to ensure now is that they continue to build on a mightily impressive start.

Wilkinson admitted he was relieved with victory against Wasps
Wilkinson admitted he was relieved with victory against Wasps
Leicester, on the other hand, will be disappointed, but they will comfort themselves with the fact that it's the first game of the season.

You don't win all the things Leicester have out of luck, so they will come back even stronger which is all the more worrying for the rest of us.

And don't write off Martin Johnson quite yet either.

He's attracted some negative headlines over the past few weeks, and some are already suggesting he should call it quits.

Well let me blunt. Jonno is awesome.

He's a formidable player and he's undoubtedly earned his reputation as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

Having played with him for England and against him for Newcastle, I can tell you with complete confidence that he's one of the best there is.

An England squad without him would be a weaker team.

As a player, he deserves every bit of his success and much, much more. I, for one, would be delighted to continue playing under him as my international captain.

I think he makes the England squad enormously strong and the rest of the guys owe him a lot for his performances over the years.

Having him present in a massive competition like the World Cup is crucial.

In a tough tournament like that, you need someone who's been there and done it - someone who continues to strive to get better and to win. And there's no doubting Jonno's track record.

Wilkinson is expecting a huge test against Northampton
Wilkinson is expecting a huge test against Northampton
Back to more domestic matters.

We were disappointed not to cross for any tries against Wasps.

But we're working hard to make that happen and we know we'll have to be better against Northampton next week.

We know a bit about playing Saints away. We met them at crucial times last season in the Powergen Cup and in the league. We lost both.

So it's going to be hard, particularly at their home ground which will be packed full of screaming Saints fans.

They're a physical and ruthless side but we understand that and we'll have to improve if we're to get anything out of the game.

On a different note, the sheer length of the season has prompted some to voice their concerns over the physical battering that young professionals put their bodies through.

And I know I'm sometimes used as an example of someone who takes the big hits.

All I can say is that how you play the game is very much a personal thing.


I can't accept not giving it my all - I get excited about the opportunity of performing well and standing out from the crowd
I can't change that - though I don't ever choose to put myself in any danger.

That's simply the way I attack my life and most things I do.

I can't accept not giving it my all. I get excited about the opportunity of performing well and standing out from the crowd.

I do get physical but that's the way I'll always be.

I've just got to look after myself outside of rugby and ensure that I train hard and stay physically fit.

If I manage to ensure that everything I do is technically correct, then hopefully I can follow in Jonno's shoes and enjoy a long and successful career.

Jonny Wilkinson

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