Martin Johnson was adamant he had no issues with Jonny Wilkinson's ability after the experienced flyhalf marked his first Test start in over a year by guiding England to a 23-19 World Cup warm-up win against Wales at Twickenham.
Wilkinson, one of rugby union's greatest goalkickers, not only booted over 13 points - including two drop-goals - he also 'ran' the match, with the injury-prone flyhalf providing a well-timed inside pass that allowed debutant centre Manu Tuilagi to score one of the hosts' two tries.
The 32-year-old Wilkinson, now with French club Toulon, has found himself playing second fiddle to former Newcastle understudy Toby Flood for England lately and had not started since playing against Scotland in March 2010.
Johnson, Wilkinson's captain when the latter landed the drop-goal that saw England beat Australia in the 2003 World Cup Final in Sydney, said it was wrong to read too much into his choice of No 10.
"Jonny doesn't have to prove anything to me, we know he can start a Test match. It's just a question of which way we want to go," said Johnson, ahead of this coming Saturday's return match against Wales in Cardiff.
"There's never been any doubt about Jonny," said the former lock, whose team complete their preparations for next month's World Cup in New Zealand with a match against Ireland in Dublin on August 27.
"There's always a 'reason' to start Jonny, he's handled the game very well but we never expect anything less of him."
Johnson added a hard-fought contest would serve England, bidding to appear in a third straight World Cup Final after losing to South Africa in Paris four years ago, well when they played Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
"We wanted a proper game, a Test match, it's what you have in the World Cup.
"If you beat teams by 70 points, everyone says you are a superstar. The good thing is there are things to work on for next week.
"Jonny managed it well but we didn't finish it off and in the end it was very close," said Johnson of a match where England captain Lewis Moody, who missed the Six Nations, limped off with a knee injury although the flanker later said it was a mere "tweak".
England, who scored their first try through No.8 James Haskell off the back of a cleverly wheeled scrum, were 13 points in front early in the second-half.
But there was a tense finale for a near capacity crowd of more than 80,000 as Wales, who outscored England three tries to two, saw Shane Williams touch down and fellow wing George North collect the second of his two tries.
"I thought at 20-7 we just needed to control the ball, but we had five or six turnovers and invited them right back onto us," said Johnson.
Wales's Morgan Stoddart was carried off on a stretcher with a broken leg during the second half, seemingly ending his World Cup hopes.
The full-back/wing was only drafted into the staring side shortly before kick-off after Wales had to rejig their team when flyhalf Stephen Jones withdrew because of a calf injury.
"Morgan looks like a bad break, it's a shame for him," said Warren Gatland, the Wales coach.
Reflecting on the match, the New Zealander said: "We were under pressure a little bit in the first half but we finished strong.
"Defensively there were a few things we could fix up but there were some good signs we could improve on."
As for England, Gatland said: "I think they will be disappointed they didn't create a few more opportunities in the first-half when they had all that ball."
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