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England's humiliation could be a World Cup blessing

SPOTLIGHT: Jonny Wilkinson said England’s record-breaking 10-53 defeat to France represented a “real humility check” but also a “learning experience” that could yet benefit Steve Borthwick’s outclassed side.

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England were undone in all departments as they suffered their heaviest home loss in history during a Six Nations encounter at Twickenham on Saturday where reigning champions France scored seven tries in a scintillating display.

But England great Wilkinson insisted some good could yet emerge from a crushing loss for a team that rounds off its Six Nations fixtures against title contenders Ireland in Dublin next weekend.

As a teenager, Wilkinson was involved in England’s worst defeat of all time when an under-strength team were hammered 0-76 by Australia in Brisbane during the 1998 ‘Tour from Hell’.

Yet he went on to become an outstanding flyhalf before landing the last-ditch drop-goal as England beat the Wallabies in the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney.

“It’s not a wrong turn and it’s not the end of the path,” Wilkinson told ITV.

“That 1998 game for me, was a real cleansing opportunity. I was almost forced to change and in that change, I found a brand new possibility.

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“It’s a massive humility check,” the 43-year-old added.

“It’s a huge learning experience and if there’s that desire and intention to push on, it will turn into something bigger and better.”

This was England’s second defeat in four games under Borthwick after the Rugby Football Union sacked veteran coach Eddie Jones, now in charge of his native Australia for a second time, just months before the World Cup in France, which kicks off in September

Clive Woodward, England’s coach for both the 1998 Brisbane debacle and when they were crowned world champions five years later, sympathised with Borthwick.

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“I think Steve has still got a lot of learning to do, but he’s a young coach and he just started his international career.”

He added: “It’s a sobering moment. No doubt about that. We [Woodward and Wilkinson] were both in Australia when we lost by 70-odd points but that was our second or third team.

“To actually see that in a Six Nations game, I never thought I’d see that scoreboard ever at Twickenham.”

Woodward, however, also paid tribute to France’s display, writing in his Mail on Sunday column: “Some of the attacking rugby Les Bleus played at Twickenham was just sublime.”

There was praise too for France’s performance across the British press, with Sunday Times rugby correspondent Stephen Jones writing: “This was glorious. It was gorgeous. It was absolutely devastating and compelling. It was France playing brilliant rugby in the modern idiom but based squarely on their heritage of skill and pace and attack.”

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