Wilkinson's home from home
April 26, 2013
A fresh-faced Jonny Wilkinson makes his debut for England © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson captains Toulon against Saracens on Sunday in what will be his first game at Twickenham since 2011. In honour of England's all-time record points scorer, we look back at seven golden Wilkinson moments at the home of English rugby.
The date was April 4, 1998, and little did the capacity crowd in Twickenham know that they were witnessing the debut of a man who would go on to be one of England's best ever players. A fresh-faced 18-year-old was called from the bench in the second-half and told to replace Mike Catt on the flank against Ireland. Wilkinson went on to cement his place in the side and in history at fly-half but when he joined the pitch on the wing, he was England's youngest debutant since Colin Laird took the field in 1927 against Wales.
He did not make a dent on the scoreboard and had to wait until the summer to be picked by England again - while his debut ended in a 35-17 victory against Ireland, the tour to Australia and New Zealand was later dubbed the 'Tour of Hell' as they suffered two heavy defeats.
Having knocked over 32 points against Italy in 1999 and then 14 in 2000, the Azzurri must have been sick of the sight of Wilkinson holding that famous stance pre-kick and then calmly slotting the ball through the posts. And they got plenty of chances to see his routine when Italy journeyed to Twickenham in 2001.
England had already set out their stall for the Six Nations the previous match where they thrashed Wales 44-15. Clive Woodward's men were starting to find their swagger - a mindset and style of play that took them to World Cup glory in 2003 - and it was unfortunate for Italy that everything clicked on February 17, 2001. Wilkinson collected a career best of 35 points against Italy - which consisted of nine conversions, four penalties and a try - and that individual haul is still a Six Nations record to this day.
Newcastle Falcons 30-27 Harlequins, 2001
In what proved to be Wilkinson's second and final bit of silverware with the Falcons - and the last time he ran out for a domestic match at Twickenham, he played a key role in Newcastle's charge to the Anglo-Welsh Cup. In front of 71,000 people, Wilkinson's Falcons played out an epic against Quins and prevailed 30-27.
The fly-half endured a mixed day from the tee converting just two of their four tries and missing two penalties, but the Falcons clicked with Tom May bagging a brace of tries while Jim Jenner and Dave Walder also scored. It was a hugely emotional occasion for the Falcons with coach Steve Bates shedding a tear while Inga Tuigamala said it was the "best final" he had been in.
© PA Photos
The 2002 autumn series cemented England's reputation as one of the main challengers for the World Cup the following year. In the first of three Tests against the southern hemisphere giants, the menacing All Blacks came to Twickenham in November with the Tri-Nations title to their name.
England stormed into a second-half 31-14 lead with Wilkinson grabbing a try, alongside two penalties and three conversions, but the Kiwis came rampaging back. England managed to repel the waves of attacks from the All Blacks and held on to what proved to be a key win in Woodward's reign. But the main talking point was Wilkinson's sensational solo try.
Having dispatched World Cup-holders Australia the week before by a solitary point, South Africa lay in the way of a clean sweep of the big three from below the equator. And there were no fine margins on this occasion. In a near-perfect performance from England, they dispatched the Springboks by a record margin and teed up the 2003 Six Nations in perfect fashion.
England scored a total of seven tries against the 14-men Springboks - Wilkinson found himself a target early on and Jannes Labuschagne was sent-off for a late charge on the fly-half. Wilkinson was eventually forced off with a shoulder injury but he was part of a very special England win.
Due to the arrival of Martin Johnson's first child, Wilkinson was handed the England captaincy for the first time for the visit of the Azzurri. The first two rounds of the championship saw England down France and then Wales and the Grand Slam was a very real possibility. No one expected Italy to halt England's charge but it was still a significant moment in the fly-half's career.
Jonny Wilkinson leads out England against Italy © PA Photos
England brushed away the threat of Italy with Wilkinson slotting four conversions in their six-try win. Johnson returned for their round four match against Scotland and come the end of round five, England had the Slam to their name.
It was a match heralded as the return of the king. For the first time since he swung his right boot through the ball and won the World Cup, those of a red rose inclination got to see their hero run out for England - it was a total of 1,169 days between the two games. And after suffering all manner of injuries in the intervening days, months and years, Wilkinson was finally fit and firing and had Scotland in his sights.
And he put in a truly memorable performance. He scored a try, which looked slightly dubious on replays, and also knocked over two conversions, five penalties and a drop-goal for good measure - his total of 27 points was a Calcutta Cup record. And alongside that haul, he also collected 14 stitches in his lip.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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