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Rugby Union: Jonny is their darling, despite Aussie tricks.

STAND by for a stewards inquiry if Jonny Wilkinson does not become the 50th winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award tomorrow night.

England's hero is the red-hot favourite add the trophy to add to his World Cup medal and the MBE he collected from the Queen this week, despite a dirty tricks campaign from Australian rugby fans anxious for revenge after he kicked their favourites to defeat in the Rugby World Cup final.

After failing to get under the skin of the England team with their 'boring' taunts, the bitter Aussies have launched an e-mail campaign urging their fellow countrymen to vote for Tim Henman in order to do what their players failed to achieve and knock Wilkinson off the winner's rostrum.

Henman, despite years of sterling service to British tennis, has not yet won Wimbledon - or any other Grand Slam for that matter.

If he does before he hangs up his racket, the BBC award will almost inevitably follow.

But this year is about winners and England has the world champions in a major team sport for the first time since the historic moment in 1966 when Bobby Moore lifted the football World Cup at Wembley following the 4-3 extra-time victory over West Germany.

While 'captain fantastic' Martin Johnson would probably be the professional choice for the single-minded way he has led Clive Woodward's all-conquering team to the Grand Slam, summer victories over New Zealand and Australia in their own countries and the World Cup, Jonny is England's No 1 sporting hero.

No matter how many times he claims, 'I couldn't have done it without the rest of the team,' the enduring memory of Wilkinson's drop goal in the final minute of extra time which gave England their 20-17 victory at Sydney's Telstra Stadium is likely to be reflected in the voting.

Even the suits at the RFU this week acknowledged rugby is the new sporting 'cool' and, despite the Herculean efforts of Johnson, Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio and Jason Leonard, with his world record 113 caps, in the Dad's Army pack, Wilkinson, the boy next door just about every mother would like her daughter to marry, is the coolest of the cool.

England's World Cup-winning rugby stars are the only choice for team of the year, Woodward must be coach of the year, golden boot Wilkinson is a shoe-in for the big prize.

And the BBC are ready to show his magical drop goal following tough negotiations with the International Rugby Board, rights holders to the World Cup action, who climbed down after initially asking pounds 6,500 for a single minute of action and agreed what the Beeb described as 'a fair deal.'

But for Wilkinson, Paula Radcliffe could well have become the first person to win the BBC award two years in a row, with Pippa Furnell, who completed the equestrian Grand Slam by winning the Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley eventing titles, the other outstanding challenger

Last year Paula was the overwhelming choice after her European 10,000 metres, Commonwealth 5,000 metres and marathon world record-breaking triumphs and this year she has gone even faster, setting new records for the marathon, 10,000 and 5,000 distances.

Despite all her achievements, Paula says: 'Standing at the end of the 2002 programme with the trophy in my hands and that emotional theme music playing has to be one of the proudest moments of my sporting career. This was the genuine endorsement of the British public and one of the greatest accolades in sport.'

Unless the Aussies have their way, Jonny Wilkinson, who has experienced the most magical moments a sporting career can bring over the last month, will tomorrow night add those same feelings to his World Cup triumph, this week's amazing London victory parade, tea with The Queen, a reception at 10 Downing Street and his MBE.

The only thing left is a knighthood - but Woodward could beat him to that.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 13, 2003
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