Wilkinson thankful for latest rugby World Cup chance by Julian Guyer
( AFP ) - Jonny Wilkinson says that after several years of injury hell "it's just great to be here" as he tries to once more guide England past France and into a World Cup final.
In Australia four years ago, England's talismanic fly-half kicked all of his side's points as they beat France 24- 7 in a World Cup semi-final and then sealed his status as a sporting icon, in the eyes of English fans at least, with the extra-time drop-goal that saw off the Wallabies in the final itself.
But barely a month later he suffered a shoulder injury. That was the first of a series of setbacks, also including problems with his arm, knees, appendix, groin, kidney and hamstring, which were to see him spend most of the past four years sat on the sidelines.
And it seemed his injury curse had struck again when, during England's first training session in France last month, he suffered an ankle ligament sprain which meant he missed the champions' opening two Pool matches, including their record 36-0 World Cup defeat by South Africa.
Wilkinson, renowned for his often unnerving devotion to practice, has so far been off-target with nine of his 24 goalkick attempts at this World Cup and, following the lead of New Zealand's Dan Carter, has raised questions about the quality of the balls being used in the tournament.
But the Newcastle No 10, who during the course of this event has broken Scotland great Gavin Hastings's all-time World Cup points record of 227, said his injury problems had made him savour wins, such as last Saturday's 12-10 quarter-final victory against Australia, all the more.
"I sat there in the changing room, just thinking "it's great to be here after all this time," he told reporters after Thursday's kicking practice at the Stade de France, the venue for both semi-finals.
"About the balls, three or four years ago I would have been different. "If someone was saying "you've not kicked this many and your percentage is is this,' I'd probably be thinking about that now.
"But, at the moment, because of where I am and what I have been through, I couldn't really care less."
"What I care about is giving everything to this cause, giving everything you've got to this game on the weekend bearing in mind, after the last three years, there might not be another one."
Wilkinson said memories of 2003 would not be an issue for two much-changed sides. "This French team is outstanding. They have enormous strength out wide, impact substitutions, and up front as well as the classic flair we all know about. It is as good a French team as I've seen in my time."
And he said that France's dramatic come from behind 20-18 quarter-final win over tournament favourites New Zealand had made redundant any questions about their ability, and that of 21-year-old opposing fly-half Lionel Beauxis, to handle the big occasion.
"The pressure must have been enormous in the dressing room in Cardiff and they withstood a huge barrage from number one team on the planet."
As for Beauxis, who has displaced Frederic Michalak in the France 1st XV, the 28-year-old Wilkinson said: "He's clearly a hell of a player.
"To take that weight (of pressure) and play with direction and composure and to express yourself, it's not something I had at that age," added Wilkinson, who was especially taken with Beauxis's display last weekend.
"To do that against the All Blacks, who seem to have an answer for every question, deserves a lot of praise."