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Wilkinson faces possibility of RWC disappointment

Updated: September 20, 2011, 19:33


DUNEDIN, New Zealand(AP) Jonny Wilkinson is not just motivated at the Rugby World Cup by the knowledge of what it's like to win the title. He also knows what is waiting back home if England fails to clean up its game.

Part of the side that won the 2003 title and reached the final four years ago, Wilkinson still remembers 1999, when a first-round defeat to the All Blacks set up a quarterfinal against South Africa.

Jannie de Beer kicked a tournament-record five drop goals to help the Springboks to a one-sided 44-21 win.

The next weekend, Wilkinson and current manager Martin Johnson were among those players back with their clubs while the semifinals were on television.

"Johnno talked about watching the semifinal on TV and then going out to play Newcastle away,'' Wilkinson said. "I know exactly what he was talking about because he was playing against me that day. We got knocked out in the quarterfinals and the next week of the semifinal was possibly one of the coldest, rainiest days we had at Newcastle.''

England has won its opening matches against Argentina and Georgia, but the players and coaches know that the sort of soft penalties the team is conceding at the setpiece and breakdown are unlikely to go unpunished by top sides.

Wilkinson said the time to improve is now, ahead of the final two Pool B matches against Romania and Scotland.

"If you don't get these things right, don't get them spot on then, there comes a time when you do the analysis and say 'we've got to be better next time' and next time is four months along the line in the Six Nations - it's not next week,'' Wilkinson said. "Sooner or later next week doesn't appear for a team in the World Cup.

"We just have to make sure we don't leave ourselves in that position.''

Second place in the pool would likely set up a quarterfinal against New Zealand, the tournament host and overwhelming favorite for the title.

Just as it was four years ago, when England had a frank review of its approach and failings after a 36-0 first-round defeat to South Africa, Wilkinson said the key to England's progress was the ability of individuals to own up to mistakes and rectify them.

"The guys are keen to do it, there's an accountability there,'' Wilkinson said. "There is no money pot, no laps of the field if you make mistakes. The punishment is basically looking at the other 14 guys who are working their backsides off; it's the feeling that you've put those guys in a more difficult position.

"Guys are understanding now that once is a mistake, twice is a lot more than that and three times just can't happen.''

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