Jonny Wilkinson may only be an outside bet for Lions selection but he is clearly still in Springbok thoughts ahead of next month’s tour to South Africa.
The 29-year-old has been out of action since dislocating a knee at the end of September but hopes to be included in the Newcastle squad for the European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Saracens on April 12.
Injury may have limited his game time and impact on the international and domestic scenes over recent years, but Wilkinson is still seen as a potential dangerman by South Africa’s assistant coach Gary Gold.
"Someone that we are keeping an eye on closely back here is Jonny Wilkinson," explained former London Irish supremo Gold.
"Jonny has exceptional leadership skills and I was personally very impressed with what he did with Newcastle when I was over in the Premiership."
The Newcastle fly-half has always stated his desire to return to the game in time to earn selection for his third successive Lions tour as he looks to make up for disappointing series defeats in Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005.
Although he is yet to see any action following his latest in a long line of injury setbacks, Gold believes Wilkinson’s class makes him a near certainty for the Lions if he can prove his fitness.
"I am sure he isn’t far from fitness and is truly a world class player – perhaps the only one left in England currently, and one name that would leap off the team sheet to any opposition.
"I have no doubt he will be back but whilst I don’t think he will be the Lions captain this summer, he is probably the only player who could be assured of walking straight into any British & Irish Lions squad."