Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Wilkinson eyes Lions swansong

Jonny Wilkinson would relish another opportunity with the British and Irish Lions

Jonny Wilkinson may have retired from England duty but he would relish one last hurrah with the British and Irish Lions next summer - to settle some unfinished business in Australia.

Wilkinson counts the 2001 Test series defeat to the Wallabies as one of the biggest disappointments of his career and the fact he has not won with the Lions still nags away at him. The Toulon fly-half stood down from representing England in December after 91 Tests and he has no regrets, despite the obvious attractions of a home Rugby World Cup looming on the horizon.

Wilkinson no longer felt comfortable in a changing England environment but the Lions is a different entity altogether and he would relish the chance of a return to Australia in 2013. "There's no way I could say no. In terms of what that represents, everything about it, it's enormous. Such a fabulous thing," Wilkinson said.

"The joy is the fact it doesn't have to come with international rugby. It doesn't matter where you come from. You have got six weeks, get your boots on and get into it."

In 2001, the Lions beat Australia in an extraordinary first Test but lost an epic series. Four years later, Wilkinson and the Lions were blown away by New Zealand.

"It is niggling away at me (that I haven't won a series with the Lions)," added Wilkinson, who was not fit to be considered for the 2009 tour of South Africa. "In 2001 I sat in the changing-room after the third Test and it felt like a World Cup final loss. I'd say it was up there (with the biggest disappointments of my career), definitely.

"Australia were on fire at the time and that first Test was incredible. The second Test was incredible up to a point and the third Test was just a great game. Knowing we had a shot (at the series win), the disappointment was ridiculous.

"It's like trying to run a marathon, getting to the 25th mile and someone saying: 'That's it.' To complete one you need to go right back to the start, knowing how hard the 25 miles were and knowing you could fall after 10 miles next time, like we did in 2005."

Warren Gatland mentioned Wilkinson's name in despatches on his appointment as the Lions coach, confirming pedigree players not involved in Test rugby would be considered for selection.

"He's still a fine player and only 33. Whether it is Jonny Wilkinson or whoever, it's all about how players are performing for their clubs or countries," Gatland said.

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