Edwards – Don’t write off Wilkinson

Shaun Edwards insists the Lions should not write off Jonny Wilkinson but he admits he is unlikely to tour. [more]

Edwards – Don’t write off Wilkinson

Shaun Edwards insists the Lions should not write off Jonny Wilkinson but he admits he is unlikely to tour.

Wilkinson, who this week penned a one-year extension, has been in sublime form for Toulon. The Cote d’Azur club lead the Top14 and are in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.

Edwards, the 2009 Lions defence coach, reckons it is unlikely that the England World Cup winner will tour but he is adamant his form warrants consideration.

“It won't happen of course,” wrote Edwards in his Guardian column.

“Even the man himself suggests that he'll be watching from his armchair at home near Toulon.

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“But don't completely write off a third Lions tour for Jonny Wilkinson. Consider the facts.

“Jonny Sexton, Ireland's outside half and a shoo-in for the Lions No10 shirt when fit, has not played since the Six Nations.

“Rhys Priestland has been out even longer. Owen Farrell was part of a well-beaten England team at Cardiff and, while I certainly would not rule out Wales's Dan Biggar, there isn't exactly a cupboard full of options for fly half in Australia this summer.

“Also consider what Warren Gatland has said. Thinking aloud recently, the Lions head coach reckoned he'd take two No10s and get cover from another someone who might play elsewhere.

“Say Sexton if fit and why not Wilkinson, with Farrell pencilled in as an inside centre who can cover 10?”

Gatland is a known admirer of Wilkinson and even tried to sign the Toulon ace while he and Edwards were in charge at London Wasps.

And while Wilkinson had been considering retirement Edwards reckons the iconic fly-half has proved he is back to his best.

“We all know that Wilkinson, after a deal of thought, has just signed on for another year at Toulon and my guess is that their owner and a considerable Wilkinson fan, Mourad Boudjellal, would have agreed longer if asked.

“The doubts it seems were all in Wilkinson's head, questioning whether he could still contribute to the side – an answer that anyone who has seen Toulon play in recent weeks could give without thinking twice.

“Wilkinson may be 33 – he'll be 34 before the Lions fly out – but he looks as good as ever and is playing close to his best.

“According to Steve Black, Wilkinson's long-time fitness coach, the body is good for a few years yet and, apart from a small operation in the closed season, the four years spent in the south of France seem to have been almost injury free.

“The fitness issue settled, you then have to ask whether Wilkinson is still up to playing Test rugby and, on the evidence of Toulon's Heineken quarter final against Leicester, he clearly is.

“That performance, particularly in the second half, reminded me why I wanted to work with the man and what it was like to try to work against him.”

And Edwards is convinced an in-form Wilkinson has all the attributes to fire the Lions Down Under.

“When he's behind a dominant pack, as he probably would be with the Lions against Australia, he's almost impossible to counter. He's like an NFL quarterback, only instead of throwing the ball, he kicks it.

“From hand or kicking tee, he's about as accurate as they come. He can land his high bombs on a sixpence (there's no better way of putting it) and, as he showed against Leicester, he puts defences under pressure.

“His range of kicking has possibly expanded and he's regained the length some thought he had lost. In short – ask Mathew Tait, a former team mate at Newcastle, but Leicester's full-back in Toulon, if you like – it's Wilkinson who decides where the game is played. And he's not bad at defending either.”

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