I love rugby union, in fact I like nothing more than seeing a fast running game with plenty of big hits. When the referee refrains from blowing the whistle too often and plays the advantage, it can produce some very exciting rugby union as the continuity of the game is maintained and the ball keeps on moving. In stark contrast to the running game, rugby union is also synonymous with the kicking game; where at times it can become nothing more than aerial ping pong.
Anyone that follows rugby union will be familiar with the name Jonny Wilkinson, he was the man that pretty much won England their first Rugby World Cup in 2003. Jonny Wilkinson has built himself a name as being one of, if not the greatest kicker of all time in the rugby union scene world wide.
The frustration associated to his famous left boot has come in the 2007 Rugby World Cup as at every given opportunity, the ball is kicked. Throughout the Rugby World Cup, we’ve seen the English team take penalty kicks from 40m, 45m, 50m and even 55m. Of course, that luxury if afforded to the English rugby union team by Jonny Wilkinson, as it is generally accepted that few other kickers in the world rugby scene are capable of such feats.
When the England rugby team have their kicking game turned on, I find the match horribly boring to watch. If I were a paying customer at the match itself, I would be quite angry as the constant kicking disrupts the flow of the game. In support for England, they would also be foolhardy not to capitalise on having such an outstanding kicker on their team – but it really does detract from the viewing of the game. I suppose it could be largely avoided if the opponents of the English rugby team didn’t give away so many penalties, however throughout the Rugby World Cup in 2007 it has been quite difficult for certain teams not to.
Credit has to be given where it is due though, Jonny Wilkinson is masterful when putting boot and ball together. In the Rugby World Cup semi-final between France and England, Wilkinson hit a field goal in the closing minutes of the match which was amazing. The ball was fired out to him from the back of the ruck, the French defensive line was coming down on him at a rate of knots. I’d estimate that the ball wasn’t in his hands for more than 1 second and in that time he managed to catch the ball, set himself and kick yet another great goal.
The incredible skill of Jonny Wilkinson does make me wonder how much the English rugby union team rely on it. I’ve heard the commentators at the 2007 world cup talk repeatedly about how calm the English team is and their willingness to grind out a win. I would argue that their calm is in part facilitated by Wilkinson; knowing you have someone on your team with his kicking skill allows his team to do certain things that their opponents are not able to replicate. While the no one could argue at the skill of the forward pack for England, I do wonder how their game style would change if Jonny Wilkinson wasn’t part of their team.