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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 22:22 GMT
Wilkinson: England's perfect 10
Jony Wilkinson
Born: 25/5/79
Position: Fly-half
Team: Newcastle
Debut: 4/2/98 v Ireland
England caps: 52
Total points: 817
2003 points: 233
Jonny Wilkinson's rise to hero status in England has been almost trouble-free.

He made his international debut at the age of 18, coming on as substitute in the 79th minute of a Five Nations game against Ireland in 1998 and becoming his country's youngest full international for 71 years.

Then came the only blip in his career so far - his first start came in England's humiliating 76-0 defeat by the Wallabies in the disastrous "Tour of Hell" down under.

Wilkinson emerged just about unscathed.

He was selected for the 1999 World Cup squad and scored a try, six conversions and five penalties as England destroyed Italy 67-8 in their opening game at Twickenham.

Despite not playing every game, Wilkinson ended the tournament with 63 points.

In the inaugural Six Nations in 2000, he set a championship record points tally and established himself as the country's best fly-half - a deadly combination of precision and kicker and fearsome tackler.

By 2001, Wilkinson had become England's leading points scorer of all time, surpassing club coach Rob Andrew at Newcastle.

The following year, he enhanced his reputation as one of the world's best players with a starring role in a trio of England wins over the South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

The publicity-shy youngster scooped the International Players' Player of the Year award and was given an MBE in the New Year's honours.

But the best was yet to come.

England began 2003 by clinching their first Six Nations Grand Slam, with Wilkinson slotting home a tournament-best total of 77 points and captaining the side for the first time against Italy.

Wilkinson was again in deadly form as England completed an unbeaten tour down under - recording historic wins over New Zealand and Australia.

Such was his reputation by the time of the World Cup that some below-par performances in the early stages led some to ponder whether the pressure was getting to the world's best number 10.

Wilkinson defied the sceptics as he scored all of England's 24 points in the semi-final win over France.

His last-gasp drop goal winner in the final against Australia cemented his position as a superstar in the making.

Still only 24, Wilkinson has been showered with awards and plaudits and is the first rugby player to be awarded the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy.

While he may shun the limelight, he can expect plenty more plaudits in the coming years as England plan to rubber-stamp their status as the world's best.

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