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Wilkinson bows out of World Cup on poor display

Updated: October 08, 2011, 09:35


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) For the first time in the World Cup, Jonny Wilkinson was perfect with the boot.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn't enough to save England, as he's so often done in a brilliant 13-year career.

Struggling with his radar throughout the Cup, Wilkinson successfully kicked his only shot at goal, then was replaced 10 minutes later in the 65th and watched his teammates fall to France 19-12 in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

"It's a painful experience,'' Wilkinson said.

It was all the more painful for Wilkinson because his wretched performance in the first half contributed to France's decisive 16-0 lead by halftime.

Wilkinson was too easily beaten by Vincent Clerc in scoring France's first try, and the veteran flyhalf couldn't stop Maxime Medard when the France fullback spun his way over nine minutes later.

Wilkinson also killed a couple of promising moves near the end of the half when his passes to wingers Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton were too high to handle.

In between those, he flicked a nice pass back for No. 8 Nick Easter to break into space, but the move eventually broke down when scrumhalf Ben Youngs threw at Cueto, who was running back into position and wasn't expecting the pass which ricocheted forward off his elbow.

The second half was no better for a misfiring England, as Wilkinson's hospital pass to Manu Tuilagi was intercepted.

After he converted Foden's try in the 55th, Wilkinson was not surprisingly taken off by manager Martin Johnson, and most wondered whether it was his last appearance in an England jersey.

Johnson didn't want to speculate: "It is not the time for that sort of stuff,'' he said.

If this was the end, it wasn't pretty for a 32-year-old player whose legacy was assured after booting the dropped goal that won the 2003 final for England deep into extra-time.

He struggled in his fourth World Cup. A career 72 percent goalkicker, Wilkinson failed under pressure in New Zealand and made less than 50 percent. In the pool stage, only the regular kickers from Namibia and Romania had worse percentages, and their teams didn't win a match.

England got so in a lather over Wilkinson's kicking woes, that two support coaches were banned for one match each for illegally swapping the balls before two of his conversions against Romania.

Yet Johnson persisted with his old teammate. Wilkinson was a proven winner.

In England's last two semifinal wins over France, Wilkinson kicked all of the points in the 24-7 decision in 2003 in Sydney, and added two penalties and a dropped goal in the 14-9 victory in 2007 in Paris.

He had a chance on Saturday to regain his international points record from the injured Dan Carter, being only six points adrift of the New Zealander. But the two-point conversion left him on 1,246 points. He holds every England points record, and his 91 caps for England are bettered only by Jason Leonard.

Being embroiled in the ball-swapping controversy wasn't to his liking but Wilkinson remained stoic, and knew only too well from falling short in two previous World Cups that he was at risk of another disappointment.

"We've faced a lot of criticisms from the outside and had a lot of distractions,'' he said, "but at the end of the day it's World Cup rugby and it's hard.''

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