Australia coach Robbie Deans expects Jonny Wilkinson to thrive amid the expectation surrounding his international comeback.
The Wallabies defend the Cook Cup at Twickenham on Saturday, with Deans concerned that England’s confidence has rocketed following the “critical” return of Wilkinson.
Restored to full fitness after six injury-ravaged years, Wilkinson’s impressive form at Toulon has helped lift the gloom caused by England’s alarming casualty list.
The 30-year-old’s first Test appearance since March last year will be confirmed tomorrow when Martin Johnson names his team for the autumn opener against the Wallabies.
Deans views Wilkinson as the architect of England’s 2003 World Cup triumph and insists he is under pressure to live up to his reputation.
“I think probably the most critical element is the introduction of Jonny, because that has brought a lot more certainty around the English,” he said.
“I don’t think that expectation will be a big deal for Jonny. He’s very experienced - it’s not as though he’s just arrived on the scene.
“Of course, there will be a lot of expectation on him to play at the same standard that he’s renowned for.
“He essentially won England the World Cup, so inevitably there will be a lot of expectation.
“I don’t imagine he’ll have changed much as a player. We believe England will be more dangerous with Jonny there. He’ll bring a lot of shape to their game.
“His influence on his peers will be valuable in terms of the confidence he’ll bring to them.
“We expect to meet England at their best - and know that Jonny will contribute to that.”
Deans’ sentiments were echoed by the Wallabies’ veteran fly-half Matt Giteau, who will line up opposite Wilkinson at Twickenham.
“Jonny’s kicking game steers England around really well. He’s got a lot of experience and has proved time and time again that he’s a big-game player,” he said.
“If you’re ill-disciplined he’s capable of kicking them from anywhere.
“The last time I played him was in 2007 at the World Cup, and you could see the confidence he brought to the side.
“For me, you prepare the best you can - believing Jonny will play the best rugby he is capable of. That’s how I’ll be facing it.”