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Wilkinson loses count of missed kicks as England and Argentina struggle with boot in Dunedin

09/10/2011 09:11 EDT | Updated 11/10/2011 05:12 EST
DUNEDIN, New Zealand - The kickers found things so tough at Otago Stadium that even the famously meticulous Jonny Wilkinson lost count of the misses.

Under the glass roof and bright lights of Dunedin, England beat Argentina 13-9 in a match in which the rival teams converted just six of their combined 17 place kicks.

Questions were asked before the match about whether the low-slung lighting, white steel and glass surround of the new, 30,000-seat stadium might hamper kickers. Wilkinson himself acknowledged in the buildup that he was concerned that the unique environment — without wind or rain — could affect the flight of the ball.

But in the end, the flyhalf had little explanation for the failures.

"I don't even know how many I missed," Wilkinson said. "In kicking, you're judged on the outcome. But as kickers, you focus on what you're doing with the ball. That's what you focus on because at the end of the day with all these variables, you have to focus on the bit you can control.

"And today I felt really good."

For the record, Wilkinson put two penalties and a conversion through the posts. He missed with the other five of his eight kicks on goal — a shocking performance for a player still famous for his metronymic accuracy and World Cup-winning drop goal in 2003.

"I'm not going to apportion any kind of blame other than to myself," Wilkinson said. "I'm the one kicking the ball. It was the same for both sides. It was tough kicking out there."

Argentina should have been out of reach after England conceded a string of penalties at the breakdown but five missed kicks by Martin Rodriguez and one by Felipe Contepomi kept the Six Nations champions in touch despite the miserable kicking performance by Wilkinson.

But while Contepomi swiftly handed over kicking duties to Rodriguez, England team manager Martin Johnson lauded his former teammate Wilkinson for persisting even after his run of misses.

"I said to him afterward, 'well done, you kept taking your shots,'" Johnson said. "We kept at it and he got us there. He said he thought he hit one badly and the rest pretty well."

Wilkinson was critical of the tournament ball at the 2007 World Cup, when England rallied from a shaky start to reach the final. England captain Mike Tindall hinted that his No. 10 may be just as unhappy with the Gilbert Virtuo ball used in New Zealand this time around.

"From my point of view, I had to trust Wilko with his call," Tindall said. "There were a couple of times he said he didn't want to go for it and we went for the corner. You've always got to trust your kicker, especially when it's Jonny Wilkinson.

"He said he just couldn't get the control on the ball. He said he was hitting it well, but couldn't control it."

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