NEWS
10/06/2011 03:13 EDT | Updated 12/06/2011 05:12 EST

Wilkinson retained, Stephen Jones replaced as World Cup sees a tale of 2 fly halves

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The Rugby World Cup served up a tale of two fly halves Thursday, of two players for whom it was the best of times and the worst of times.

Jonny Wilkinson was retained at fly half in the England team that will play France in Saturday's quarter-final, forcing the claimant to his position — Toby Flood — to move to inside centre.

At almost the same time, Wales named the 24-year-old Rhys Priestland at fly half for its quarter-final against Ireland, relegating the 102-test veteran Stephen Jones to a role outside its match 22.

Wilkinson has overcome an arm injury to win his place in the quarter-finals, forcing one of four changes made by manager Martin Johnson to the starting lineup that beat Scotland 16-12 at inside centre.

Johnson brought in Flood at inside centre — bypassing his conflict with Wilkinson for the fly half role — selected Mark Cueto for the suspended Delon Armitage, picked No. 8 Nick Easter over James Haskell and opted for lock Tom Palmer over Courtney Lawes.

Flood displaced England vice-captain Mike Tindall, who has been struggling with a leg injury and hasn't been able to train with the team all week.

"He hasn't really been available to us this week. By the Saturday, he'd probably be touch and go," Johnson said. "That was part of the equation, with Mike's injury and Toby playing very well.

Wilkinson has been out of form throughout the pool stages, kicking only nine from 20 attempts at goal, and has generally failed to ignite a backline containing the tournament's leading try-scorer in Chris Ashton, dynamic fullback Ben Foden and bullocking centre Manu Tuilagi.

"It's not a gamble," Johnson said of selecting Leicester teammates Flood and Manu Tuilagi in the centres. "You always put a lot of thought into your selections and none more so than when you're in a World Cup quarter-final. It's one of the options we've got."

While England opted for Wilkinson's experience over Flood's greater flair at No. 10, Wales took the opposite course and chose Priestland ahead of Stephen Jones, its most-capped player.

There wasn't a spot on the reserves bench for Jones, either, with the versatile James Hook returning from injury to cover fly half, fullback and centre.

To many players it might have been a bitter blow but Jones was the first among the Wales contingent to offer Priestland his congratulations.

"Steve was the first one to come up and congratulate me and that does mean a lot," Priestland said. "I come from the same region and know him well.

"It must be tough for him, but I am sure if I ask him anything he will be more than happy to help me, so it's good knowing that."

Wales made four other changes to the team that beat Fiji in pool play, naming Leigh Halfpenny at fullback in place of Lee Byrne, Jonathan Davies at centre ahead of Scott Williams and Shane Williams on the left wing after his recovery from a thigh strain.

Alun-Wyn Jones returns at lock ahead of Bradley Davies and Dan Lydiate returns from injury to displace Ryan Jones at blindside flanker.

Wales coach Warren Gatland had the luxury, rare among the quarter-finals teams, of selecting from a fully fit squad of 30. He described the selection as the toughest he had faced in his four years in charge of the Welsh.

"Sometimes, in the past, we didn't have a huge playing base in Wales so if you've had three or four key injuries it's not always about who you're going to leave out but who you're going to pick in certain positions," he said. "It's a great position to be in to be having to make hard calls about who you leave out."

Gatland said he had chosen Priestland ahead of Hook and Jones for the poise he had shown in his brief international career.

"I made a comment to the other coaches when we were in Poland (for a pre-World Cup training camp) that this kid's got something a little bit different about him," Gatland said. "He's got a calmness, a coolness and he impressed us in preseason, as well."

South Africa named its most experienced lineup ever for its quarter-final against Australia but there was one veteran missing, the larger-than-life lock Bakkies Botha. Botha aggravated an Achilles tendon injury in training and will take no further part in the tournament, his international career likely over.

Botha is now returning to South Africa.

"I'm very disappointed after all the hard work that has been put in over the past few months," Botha said. "But it's not about me, it's about the team now and there's still a big job to do.

"I'll be sitting at home with my family on Sunday with a tear on my cheek as the team takes on the Wallabies."

Botha showed that team spirit in a message to teammates, shared by winger Bryan Habana.

"Bakkies had a talk to the team this morning and it did get a little bit emotional," Habana said. "We've had a guy that's really given his heart to this country for the last 10 years and he's become a good friend to a lot of us.

"He's a strong character within this team, not only by the way he carries on off the field, but his ability to bring this team together on the field.

"Yes, it was a bit sombre in the team room this morning and I think Bakkies said it the most, he said you never know when it's going to be your last game."