British & Irish Lions hopeful Jonny Wilkinson insists he is fitter now than he has been "for a long, long time" as he prepares to start for Newcastle against London Irish on Saturday.
Sir Clive Woodward has left the door open for Wilkinson to join his 44-man squad in New Zealand this summer, after omitting him from the original tour party.
Wilkinson effectively has another month to prove his match fitness and sharpness after experiencing a post-World Cup period blighted by repeated injury setbacks.
But the England captain, who has signed a new three-year contract with Newcastle, is in upbeat mood after recovering from a second knee injury this season.
"There have been a few weeks of training now where I haven’t had to think about the injury every day, and that is always a good sign," he said.
"I’ve not felt this fit for a long, long time.
"I absolutely have aspirations to go on the tour, and it is a huge goal for me, although you are not likely to be part of a winning Lions tour if you’re not actually selected, which is where I am at the moment.
"The next month for me is the key. I’ve got a lot to prove to myself and many other people.
"I have got to play, see how I get on and then it would be an honour if I was asked to go to New Zealand and play against the very best. It will be an amazing tour, and I would love to be part of it.
"All I can say at the moment is that I am physically fit enough. I can’t be any fitter or better conditioned than I am now. The rest of it is out of my hands."
Wilkinson, who has not played Test rugby since the 2003 World Cup final, made a successful return off the bench during Falcons’ narrow defeat at Northampton earlier this month, and he now starts against Kingston Park visitors London Irish.