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Wilkinson facing the boot because of kicking slump

Updated: October 04, 2011, 03:32


AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) In a test career lasting 13 years and counting, it's fair to say Jonny Wilkinson has excelled at goal kicking.

The England flyhalf needs only seven points to pass the All Blacks' Dan Carter as the highest all-time scorer in test rugby despite being sidelined for 1,169 days because of various injuries since his famous dropped goal clinched the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

He has scored 1,177 points for England to sit 777 above Paul Grayson, the next most prolific player for their country. He's also scored 67 points for the British Lions. And he is the leading points-scorer in World Cup history with 275, 135 more than the next active player, Scotland utility back Chris Paterson.

But Wilkinson is in the midst of a terrible slump at the World Cup in New Zealand, where he's successful with less than half of his shots at goal.

After the completion of the pool stage, Wilkinson's 45 percent success rate is the third lowest of all the leading place kickers for each of the 20 nations - ahead of only Namibia's Theuns Kotze (40) and Romania's Marin Dumbrava (38), who both played for winless teams.

The 32-year-old Wilkinson still averages just under 74 percent for England overall, but Toby Flood's success rate of 77 percent at the tournament leaves England manager Martin Johnson with a decision to make for the quarterfinal against France on Saturday at Eden Park.

Wilkinson kicked three from eight attempts in England's opening 13-9 win over Argentina in the unusual surrounds of the enclosed Otago Stadium in Dunedin. He later pleaded ignorance to the extent of his inaccuracy.

"I don't even know how many I missed,'' Wilkinson said. "I'm not going to apportion any kind of blame other than to myself.''

But England captain Mike Tindall hinted afterward that Wilkinson was unhappy with the new Gilbert Virtuo ball being used at the tournament, saying "he said he just couldn't get the control on the ball. He said he was hitting it well, but couldn't control it.''

England kicking coach Dave Alred and fitness coach Paul Stridgeon even illegally switched balls for Wilkinson's conversion attempts in the 67-3 win against Romania, resulting in both staffers being stood down by the Rugby Football Union for the next game versus Scotland.

Wilkinson missed his first three shots at goal against Scotland, and landed just two from four overall before Flood took over to land the sideline conversion right near the end of England's 16-12 comeback win.

South Africa flyhalf Morne Steyn said the ball is the same as that used in the Super 15 this season but with different markings. It was first used during the Six Nations tournament and all the squads trained with the ball in the lead-up to the World Cup.

"I think when there's a lot going on out on the field with the kicking you're always looking for something to blame,'' Steyn said Tuesday. "But for me, I think the ball is the same. You can't blame the ball.''

That view didn't tally with Carter before the New Zealand pivot was ruled out of the World Cup because of a groin injury.

"It doesn't have as much give, so if you don't quite strike it right then it doesn't fly as straight as you would like it to at times,'' Carter said.

But there were several notable kicking success stories last weekend in the last round of pool matches.

Wales kicked 10 from 10 through flyhalves Rhys Priestland and Stephen Jones in the 66-0 win over Fiji that was staged in torrential rain at Hamilton, and fullback James O'Connor nailed nine from 10, many from the sideline, in Australia's 68-22 triumph against Russia in slippery conditions at Nelson.

Ireland landed eight from nine attempts through flyhalves Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara in the 36-6 victory over Italy - and at Otago Stadium, the venue of Wilkinson's struggles.

O'Connor said kicking is a solitary experience and the influence of external elements are often overemphasized.

"Goal kicking is very individual. It's between you and the ball,'' he said. "It's nothing to do with the opposition and the other kicker. It's about your process and knocking them over. When you're hitting them well, you feel like you're never going to miss.''

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The rest of the list is: Wales' Stephen Jones (92 percent success rate), Ireland's Ronan O'Gara (84), South Africa's Morne Steyn (83), Fiji's Seremaia Baikeinuku (82), France's Dimitri Yachvili (81), Australia's James O'Connor (78), Tonga's Kurt Morath (68), Samoa's Tusi Pisi (67), Japan's James Arlidge (64), Italy's Mirco Bergamasco (63), Scotland's Dan Parks (63), Russia's Konstantin Rachkov (63), United States' Chris Wyles (63), New Zealand's Colin Slade (62), Georgia's Merab Kvirikashvili (53), Argentina's Felipe Contemponi (50) and Canada's Ander Munro (50).

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