JONNY WILKINSON handed the ‘immense’ England pack with the credit for keeping alive his hopes of a second Grand Slam in the 17-9 win over France, writes Paul Morgan.

The World Cup winner was a second half replacement in the titanic battle with the French, kicking a crucial 53rd minute penalty to put England clear with this first touch of the ball.

And although Ben Foden scored the vital try at the start of the second half the victory was created by the forwards, who met the French threat head on.

‘It was a battle out there. Playing week in week out in the French League I know exactly how physical those guys are,’ Wilkinson said.

‘They are battle worn and they can take big hits all day. They can take big hits and hand them out. We needed guys who can step up and put their heads where others would fear to.

‘The pack had to stand up tall, make the hits and get up off the floor and do it all over again. It was hard, hard work – a quick game for those boys who took hit after hit.

‘They don’t get the praise they deserve.’

The penalty was Wilkinson’s 1190th point in Test rugby, passing Dan Carter’s previous world record mark.

‘It is probably the first time in my career that I was actually aware of the situation,’ Wilkinson revealed, ‘as someone told me about it a few days ago – otherwise I would never have known.

‘The record is not really a big deal to me. It was more important to get straight into the game when I came – to get my hands dirty.

‘I can’t ever remember coming into a game to take a kick (of 46 metres). My first touch in professional rugby was a try, and I have barely scored one since!’

Wilkinson also told me that he was astounded with the reception he received when he came on the field against France and how the England fans have supported him in recent years when injuries have blighted his career.

Wilkinson said: “The warmth of people has been amazing, the way they have responded to me through the ups and downs of my career has been incredible. From being nowhere, to be hardly seen for three years. It is massively heart-warming and baffles me the selfless approach people have towards supporting a guy to try and achieve his dreams. There are so many thousands of England fans who are happy to give up their energy for me. It is a great, great feeling and one that continues to drive me.

“They are overwhelmingly supportive and makes me think what have I done to deserve this? You look at all the other players putting their bodies on the line, building big reputations and they are still that way with me. The crowd seems to be really warming to this team and I am really, really glad as that is the relationship you want as these guys are giving everything. The ethic of this England team is so strong and they appreciate – hugely – the support they get. They want to hand it back to the fans.”