Martin Johnson.
Martin Johnson. SMP Images - Andrew Fosker

Ball feels different: Johnson

MARTIN Johnson's stellar reputation as a rugby player had precious little to do with his mastery of the marksmanship duties, but he knows just enough about putting boot to ball to know that this particular example - the Gilbert model in use at the World Cup - "feels slightly different". Pressed on the subject yesterday by those who remain befuddled by Jonny Wilkinson's poor kicking return against Argentina, he said: "We have our ideas. It's not really my area and I have no hard evidence, but my gut feeling is that there is something about the ball, maybe when it is new."

Wilkinson, he said, felt he had struck the ball "pretty well" against the Pumas. "There is no more experienced kicker in the world than Jonny, and no more experienced kicking coach than Dave Alred," Johnson continued. "They will address what happened."

One theory doing the rounds is that the balls last weekend were inflated to a different pressure than expected - something that could explain the problems experienced by such dead-eye kickers as Daniel Carter of New Zealand, Chris Paterson of Scotland and Jonathan Sexton of Ireland. "There again," Johnson added, "you have to say that a lot of the kicks missed in our game were from very testing positions."