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England to deploy Wilkinson minders


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England are determined to give Jonny Wilkinson more protection when they face another potential battering against South Africa at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Wilkinson went off during the closing stages of the world champions’ record 58-10 defeat at the Springboks’ hands in Bloemfontein two days ago, suffering from a facial laceration and bruising to his lower back.

England expect their fly-half to resume training later this week as an ill-fated trip nears its conclusion.

Wilkinson, given his combative nature, will undoubtedly put himself in the firing line if he is declared fully fit, although England are likely to delay their team announcement for another couple of days as they continue taking stock of players either nursing injuries or suffering from illness.

Assistant coach Mike Ford said: “Jonny was our top tackler last Saturday.

“He is a great competitor who wants to be in everything, and it is difficult at times to say to him to stand to the side a little bit and let someone else take over.

“We have tried that tactic, so what we are going to try to do is get players to move him, push him out of the way and say ‘Jonny, we are going to make this tackle, we are going to take the back row on’, and hopefully, not give him an option.

“But Jonny’s enthusiasm, desire and competitiveness puts him up there.”

Asked if Wilkinson should be given more protection by his colleagues, Ford added: “Of course we do, without question.”

England have arrived at their secluded training base just outside Pretoria, still dusting themselves down from the physical confrontation they encountered in Bloemfontein.

Gloucester pair Iain Balshaw and Nick Wood have already flown home due to injuries, while the tourists still cannot report a clean bill of health from the stomach virus that swept through the squad last week.

South Africa though, have no intention of showing England mercy, and Springboks coach Jake White could go in with the same side that ran the visitors ragged, scoring seven tries.

The game’s physical nature was particularly evident up front, where the South Africa back row proved dominant figures as the contest wore on, and England must somehow find a way of counteracting that threat.

Ford’s fellow assistant and forwards specialist John Wells said: “What was thrown at us was what we expected, and it was how well we could deal with it.

“Some things we dealt with okay, and there were some things we weren’t capable of dealing with particularly well.

“We talked as a group about delivering good ball from set piece. There were a couple of line-outs where the ball was tapped down and, while we might have won the ball, it didn’t give us good possession to actually launch anything from.

“But by and large, everyone stuck in there, took the bumps, bruises, knocks and collisions and had a go. They did the best they could – there were a lot of bashed-up bodies.

“The nature of this group is they are under no illusions about how tough a challenge this was going to be.

“There was a sense after the game on Saturday that the world had caved in – they knew what was at stake – but they have taken it on the chin.

“Fair dos to the lads, they are dragging themselves up from what was a very low position after the game on Saturday and they are gagging for another game this weekend.”

England are unlikely to name their team until Wednesday at the earliest, but changes are likely, with a possibility Bath prop Matt Stevens could feature.

Stevens flew up from Cape Town to join the squad late last week as cover for Wood, and there must be a strong possibility of him featuring in the starting XV.

Wells added: “We know what we have got available to us, and we will want to see over the next two days what we can take into the Test match.

“We are pretty comfortable with what forwards are

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