Care, Waldrom given Wilkinson backing
England legend Jonny Wilkinson has backed Thomas Waldrom and Danny Care to shine after they came into the team for the third Test in South Africa.
Coach Stuart Lancaster originally made six changes to the tourists’ line-up for Saturday’s match in Port Elizabeth, but Joe Marler came back into the starting XV after his replacement Alex Corbisiero was ruled out through injury.
Among the five changes from the team which lost the second Test 36-27 in Johannesburg are No.8 Waldrom and scrum-half Care, with Ben Morgan and the injured Ben Youngs dropping out.
Speaking to Eurosport before the team was announced, Wilkinson had his say on the incoming duo.
“Danny Care I know well from my time with him in club rugby and is a hugely dangerous player,” said Wilkinson. “He reads the ruck defence so well and has the energy to take the game to them.
“Thomas Waldrom was an ever-present in the build-up to the 2011 World Cup. He is a talented ball-player and difficult to stop.
“He also has huge intelligence – what to do, when to do it and how. That is difficult to coach, performing like that under pressure.”
The fly-half, who kicked England to glory in the 2003 World Cup and is the nation’s leading Test points scorer, also backed Dylan Hartley to thrive in the captain’s role vacated by injured flanker Chris Robshaw.
“It’s a tough situation [with the injuries],” he continued. “Chris Robshaw and Ben Youngs are great players and have an enormous influence on the team.
“But someone will come in with a slightly different way of playing – in international rugby you can’t afford to have too much difference in your overall level when this happens.
“In 2000-1 Martin Johnson was out for a while and there is no one better in that position, or as a captain – but Simon Shaw stepped in and took over. The world’s best teams get on with the job. No matter what, as an England team you must be there or thereabouts for the victory at the end of the game.
“Dylan Hartley has great experience and is seriously passionate. As a leader on the pitch, it is massively important how the players respond to you as a captain.
“[When I was captain] I tried to allow it to give confidence to those around me, explaining what to do and how when needed.”
“Owen Farrell is a massive boost for us and will be a huge player,” he said. “Someone that committed and mentally tough at that age – it takes years and years normally to develop resilience to that level of pressure.
“[But] putting Floody in there is the right call at the moment. I know him very well - and he is enormously talented and deserves to play.”
It is Wilkinson’s opinion that a tour in South Africa is as difficult as it gets in Test rugby; as such, losing both opening Tests is not the end of the world for Lancaster’s men.
“There are certain positives to take from the opening losses, although an international rugby player would never openly agree that any kind of a victory could be taken from defeat,” he said.
“There is no tougher place than South Africa, up in the highlands, from a physical point of view. It’s about fronting up to it for 80-85 minutes – you can’t think of your own wellbeing. The pace these big guys come at you with you have to match, and take it even further.
“It has been a huge effort from the squad and takes them to a crucial point in their development, if those players look back and think ‘we honestly should have had a different result’.
“That is key - if they are certain they can mix it with the Springboks. However each game becomes progressively more crucial as you require consistency of performance, regardless of injuries picked up or anything that happens with the referees.”
And Wilkinson is impressed with what he has seen from the England head coach so far. Lancaster took over following the World Cup debacle under Martin Johnson and came close to securing the Six Nations title before he was given the job full-time.
“Stuart has done really good,” he added. “I had a long chat with him and Simon Shaw at Toulon before the campaign and I was impressed by his whole approach: it is very well constructed.
“He is very appreciative of who he is dealing with player-wise – the identity they bring to the dressing room – and what it takes to win.
“He is someone who knows how to set and achieve his goals.”
Wilkinson, who has retired from international rugby but plans another title assault with Toulon next season – they lost in the Top 14 final – has been doing some coaching of his own recently.
“I went down to coach the Southwark Tigers with Vernon Neve-Dunn as part of a Gillette campaign celebrating coaches,” he revealed.
“Anything that Vernon could do to give youngsters the opportunity to express themselves on the rugby pitch, he does. I was his assistant for the day and found he had infectious enthusiasm - a real inspiration for them.
“He is determined to set the guys off on an incredible path. It’s about life skills and working together in a team: getting stuck in and doing your bit for your team-mates.”