Jon Wilkin has criticised England head coach Shaun Wane for the ‘inflammatory language’ he used during the Tonga test series, labelling it ‘bizarre’.
After the first of the three clashes, which England won 22-18 in St Helens, Tonga boss Kristian Woolf took umbrage with the hosts’ supposed tactic of slowing the ruck down. Captain Addin Fonua-Blake meanwhile said it was a game they had lost rather than one England had won.
Wane expressed his disapproval of those remarks in the build-up to the second test, and after a 10-4 win in Huddersfield which clinched the series for England, admitted his side had used them as ‘fuel’ to get over the line.
The hosts would go on to seal a 3-0 whitewash with a comfortable 26-4 victory at Headingley yesterday, but ahead of that clash, Wilkin – who won 20 caps between England and Great Britain – levelled criticism at Wane for how he reacted to the Tongan’s comments.
Jon Wilkin lambasts England head coach Shaun Wane
As a pundit for the BBC in Leeds, former St Helens ace Wilkin – who played in the 2008 World Cup – said: “It’s just bizarre. For me, you’re creating something out of nothing.
“The language he’s used in his programme notes in week one to post-match interviews to the press conference this week, it’s all been quite inflammatory sort of language.
“I’m all for creating a villain, and I’m all for building a narrative of why his team needs to be good, but England had a pressing reason to be good. That was the World Cup last year and crashing out in the semi-final.
“They didn’t need to make Tonga into ‘big bad Tonga that we need to get one over on because they’re cruel and mean and their words hurt us’. Come on!”
Fellow pundit defends Wane amid criticism from Wilkin
Joining host Mark Chapman and Wilkin live at Headingley yesterday was former Widnes Vikings and Warrington Wolves stalwart Kevin Brown.
Brown made 11 England appearances during his own career, featuring in the 2017 World Cup under legendary coach Wayne Bennett, reaching the final and being beaten by Australia.
He defended Wane amid criticism from Wilkin, saying: “I do feel that Shaun Wane likes to have that narrative, he likes to have that conflict to charge his players up.
“I don’t see much in it from the Tongan side, so Shaun Wane’s a genius if he’s found something that can motivate his side. I think it’s more on that.
“It has worked, he’s done a great job. When I was at the World Cup with Wayne Bennett, he came to us and said, ‘look, I’m going to talk about things that aren’t really relevant to take the exposure off Sam Burgess being injured.’
“Maybe that’s the case… George Williams coming in. It’s a big, big statement dropping Mikey Lewis. It could have been something to do with that.”
Wilkin had the last word, hitting back: “It’s worked, but coaches use language all the time, and it’s never accidental. In those positions, it’s not an accident. Shaun Wane’s played a blinder by creating this villain, I just don’t see it at all.”