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Wilkinson contemplated retirement before World Cup

Updated: November 07, 2011, 14:17

LONDON(AP) Jonny Wilkinson was so upset with criticism of his performances for England that he contemplated retiring from international rugby a year before the World Cup.

The flyhalf said he met with manager Martin Johnson for four hours in October 2010 to discuss the possibility of quitting after 12 years with the national side.

"With England, my confidence had just disappeared,'' Wilkinson said. "I feel lower than I have ever felt before.

"The thought of not playing for England again makes me sick, but I simply do not know if I can carry on.''

Wilkinson was widely cited in British media as a key reason for England's often dour performances under Johnson, with critics referring to his deep positioning, kicking game and supposed tactical inflexibility.

Toby Flood replaced Wilkinson for the final game of England's 2010 Six Nations campaign and was lauded for his role in a narrow defeat to eventual champion France in Paris.

"In the media, I became a scapegoat for our performances in the Six Nations,'' Wilkinson wrote in his autobiography. "And it seemed to me that people were happy enough for it to be that way.''

Johnson and backs coach Brian Smith persuaded Wilkinson to carry on and he began the World Cup in September this year as first-choice flyhalf.

But England slumped badly and was eliminated from the quarterfinals by France, with Wilkinson's usually metronomically accurate place kicking hindered by what he still maintains were substandard match balls.

"My feeling is that it's just horribly unprofessional and an extremely bitter pill to swallow that, at the biggest tournament in the sport, we're having to deal with this,'' Wilkinson said in excerpts from his book published by The Times newspaper. "Again and again, I'm hitting the same kick every time but it's non-match ball straight through the middle, match ball to the right.''

Kicking coach Dave Alred and conditioning coach Paul Stridgeon were banned from England's final pool game against Scotland after they broke rules by switching the balls Wilkinson was using for conversions against Romania.

"The organizers claim that all the balls are the same, but they're not,'' Wilkinson said. "It's not exactly surprising that I wouldn't want a ball that flies miles from where it's supposed to.

"I'm sick to my stomach of thinking about how hard I've practiced kicking over all those years and what little good it has done me at such an important time. It angers me.''

Wilkinson's ire extended to many of his teammates, who spurned Johnson's instructions to take unnecessary risks against Georgia. The veteran flyhalf stood up at a team meeting to address the squad and give them his opinions.

"There are individuals playing for themselves, not showing respect for the opposition, throwing unnecessary fancy passes, not playing for one another,'' Wilkinson said. "I say there are things we're doing in training that we're not doing in games and mistakes we're making that we're not correcting.

"Unfortunately what that means is that the other 29 guys in the squad don't matter enough to you.''

Wilkinson also criticized his teammates over the drinking session that ended with lurid tabloid headlines speculating about whether center Mike Tindall cheated on new wife Zara Phillips - granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II.

"What I cannot understand is the naivety of people going out to the extent they did and it not crossing their minds it would find its way back to the media,'' Wilkinson said. "We've already been warned several times about what it's like here, especially in the World Cup.

"You need to be a little reserved, careful, aware. With a camera on pretty much every phone these days, how could it not come back?''

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