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England drops Wilko for Irish clash

Latest update : 2008-03-12

England's rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson will start the match against Ireland on the bench, after he was dropped by coach Brian Ashton following a disappointing performance against Scotland.

Coach Brian Ashton dropped England's 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson on Tuesday as he desperately sought to finish another disappointing Six Nations on a positive note against Ireland on Saturday.

Wilkinson, England's first-choice flyhalf - when fit - for most of the last 10 years, will take Charlie Hodgson's place on the bench, with the number 10 shirt going to Danny Cipriani.

The 20-year-old Wasps flyhalf was initially picked at fullback for last weekend's 15-9 defeat by Scotland but then dropped as a punishment for going to a nightclub ahead of the game.

It will be Cipriani's first start after two replacement appearances but, remarkably, the only other change made by
Ashton after one of the worst England displays for years comes on the bench where back rower James Haskell comes in for Luke Narraway.

Wilkinson has been under pressure for a while but it was still something of a shock when Ashton announced a team with the country's talisman missing, and not for once through injury.

The 28-year-old won the first of his 69 caps against Ireland 10 years ago and would have had many more but for more than three years out of the running through a succession of injuries.

Former coach Clive Woodward preferred the experience of Paul Grayson for the 1999 World Cup quarter-final defeat by South Africa but Wilkinson became the darling of English rugby when his last-minute drop goal in extra time to beat Australia in Sydney to win the World Cup four years later.

However, after suffering a nightmare run of physical setbacks, he did not don the white shirt again for three years, coming back impressively against Scotland a year ago.

Although he often struggled to impose himself on the game after that, Wilkinson's presence, goalkicking ability and fierce defence helped drag England through to the 2007 World Cup final, where they lost to South Africa.

In this year's Six Nations he has often looked sluggish and his kicking both at goal and out of hand was below par but Ashton resisted calls to replace him with Cipriani, a faith Wilkinson repaid with a bright, positive display in the victory over Italy.



Last Saturday he passed Welshman Neil Jenkins's record to become rugby's all-time leading points scorer at Murrayfield with 1099 but it was just about the only bright moment of the game for him.

With England now likely to finish outside the top two in the championship for the fifth successive season Ashton, who will hold a news conference later on Tuesday to discuss his selections, has looked to Cipriani to deliver the creativity that has been so sorely lacking.

Whether he will be able to inspire the 14 players around him who looked so flat last Saturday, against an Ireland team looking for a fifth successive win over England, remains to be seen.

Wilkinson's demotion means that captain Phil Vickery is the only survivor in the starting team from the 2003 final team, although Saturday's fullback Iain Balshaw did play in the final as a replacement. Vickery is also one of just five surviving starters from the 2007 final XV.

Date created : 2008-03-11