England to batter new balls into submission

England's Jonny Wilkinson attempts a penalty kick during their Rugby World Cup Pool B match...
England's Jonny Wilkinson attempts a penalty kick during their Rugby World Cup Pool B match against Argentina at Otago Stadium in Dunedin. Photo by Reuters.
England's players will put the boot in to their four allocated match balls ahead of Sunday's World Cup game against Georgia in a bid to avoid a repeat of the goalkicking problems suffered against Argentina.

Jonny Wilkinson, one of the most reliable and experienced goalkickers in the game, missed an astonishing five successive penalties at the indoor Otago Stadium in Dunedin, while Argentina missed six of their nine attempts before England eventually triumphed 13-9.

With many other top kickers also struggling at the tournament, various reasons have been suggested for the problems and Toby Flood, vying with Wilkinson for the England flyhalf berth, felt the amount of time spent booting the balls in practise might be to blame.

"They are the same Gilbert Virtuo as in the Six Nations, it's the same piece of equipment but I just think it's because they are a bit fresher at game time" said Flood, who will hope to start in the Pool B game on Sunday.

"When we are at home we'll probably kick them in for a few days whereas here it's just an hour or so, so they behave slightly differently.

"Each team gets four balls the day before the game, numbered one to eight, we get four and can use them in the warm up. We'll just kick them as much as possible.

"The sweet spot is always in the same place, it's just how small it is and when it's new it's just a bit smaller."

However, Flood, like Wilkinson after Saturday's game in Dunedin, said that the ball was not a big issue.

"Whenever you hit a bad one it's always the ball's fault, or the wind or the ground or whatever, but they are fairly predictable," he said.

"When they are new they are more likely to do something you're not expecting but as long as we kick them in and get on top of them I'm sure that we'll be okay."

Flood described watching Wilkinson land only two of his seven penalty attempts as "a bit of a shock to the system" but said that most of them were pretty tough shots.

"He said he thought he hit them well so I don't think its been a massive soul-searching week for him."

Flood knows Wilkinson as well as anyone in the England set-up having developed his game under him as a youngster when both players were at Newcastle.

Having finally pushed past the hero of the 2003 final to become England's first choice number 10 and leading them to their first Six Nations title in eight years last season he now has to deal with slipping back into his former mentor's shadow.

Impressive performances by Wilkinson in two of England's warm-up games, and a shaky one from Flood in the other, edged the senior man back in front in the World Cup pecking order.

"It's a talking point outside the squad but between me and Jonny there's no big high five or handshake of congratulations about getting the start, it's just down to business," he said.

"We get on better than most people think. I've been asked about it so much but I never saw it as a competition, more as a chance to learn from an outstanding player.

"When you're 18 or so it's amazing to be with a player who is on top of the world.

"It is really frustrating though, not to be a part of the first win, part of the World Cup, but you get over it pretty quickly and realise it's a massive squad effort," added Flood, who came on as a replacement centre during the 2007 final, playing outside Wilkinson. "It's difficult but you take it on the chin as in the coming weeks the squad is going to be important.

"All I can do is go out there and try to prove them wrong. You hope you get the chance and make an impact, put your hand up when you get an opportunity."

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