Rugby World Cup 2011: Martin Johnson denies England 'kicking contest'

Rugby World Cup 2011: England v France

Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday, 8 October
0830 BST/ 2030 NZ
Live text commentary, scores and report on BBC website; updates on BBC Radio 5 live; watch live on ITV1

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Martin Johnson dismisses 'penalty shootout' stories

Martin Johnson has brushed aside claims that he is planning to hold a special competition to decide who will kick for England in the World Cup quarter-final.

The England manager was responding to reports that Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood will hold a penalty shoot-out style contest behind closed doors ahead of Saturday's France clash in Auckland.

Johnson said: "The media have made that up. We know what we're doing.

"It's a nice little story to write - we will decide who is going to take them."

Wilkinson is only six points short of Dan Carter's world record total of 1250 but has missed 11 of 20 attempts at the World Cup, the worst record in the tournament.

Flood, by contrast, has made 10 out of 13 kicks, including some difficult touchline efforts.

Toulon fly-half Wilkinson, though, has history on his side, having ultimately ended French hopes in the semi-finals of both the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.

Johnson said: "Going into a game like this, I don't think you'd want to be playing against Jonny Wilkinson."

For his part, Wilkinson insisted he would have no problem handing over kicking duties if it was for the good of the team.

"Toby and I will both be preparing as hard as we can and we'll probably make that decision after we've been to the stadium," said Wilkinson.

"It's safe to say Toby has knocked some great kicks over already, he's looking good and he's in fine form. We'll see how he's preparing and I'm preparing.

"Having Toby there is hugely reassuring, less in terms of having a [goal-kicking] safety net than knowing there is always going to be someone there making decisions," said Wilkinson of his former Newcastle team-mate.

"He is enormously comfortable with the ball in his hands, just moving off both feet, passing off both hands, he's aggressive."

But while praising his colleague, Wilkinson insisted he was fully prepared to deal with the pressure of kicking in a World Cup quarter-final.

"I'm always confident," he said. "I'm never afraid to take them. There have been two kicks in this tournament I wouldn't mind taking back but the rest I've been happy with. It's important that whatever decision we make is for the team."

Whether it be Wilkinson or Flood, England's kicker will be up against stiff competition from their French counterparts. Les Bleus have enjoyed the best success rate from in front of the sticks at the World Cup, with Morgan Parra and Dimitri Yachvili landing 22 from 26 between them.

England team: B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), T Flood (Leicester Tigers), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); J Wilkinson (Toulon), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); M Stevens (Saracens), S Thompson (London Wasps), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), L Moody (Bath Rugby, capt), N Easter (Harlequins). Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton Saints), A Corbisiero (London Irish), C Lawes (Northampton Saints), S Shaw (Unattached), J Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), M Banahan (Bath Rugby).

France team: M Medard, V Clerc, A Rougerie, M Mermoz, A Palisson, M Parra, D Yachvili; JB Poux, W Servat, N Mas, P Pape, L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy. Replacements: D Szarzewski, F Barcella, J Pierre, L Picamoles, F Trinh-Duc, D Marty, C Heymans.

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