Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Wilkinson happy to be on standby

Jonny Wilkinson, pictured, would not turn his back on the Lions

Jonny Wilkinson has vowed to do everything he can to be fit and ready to answer an injury SOS from the British and Irish Lions if the call was to come this summer.

Wilkinson is playing some of the best rugby of his career and he was named European player of the year after captaining Toulon to their Heineken Cup triumph. But he was omitted from Warren Gatland's initial 37-man squad because club commitments meant he could not guarantee being available to fly out with the rest of the touring party.

"I appreciate that everyone needs to be together (on the flight) and I certainly can't guarantee that," Wilkinson said. "I've been asked if I'll be an injury replacement. I've said 'quite happily. Let me get to the end of the season and see if I'm not the one who needs replacing, rather than the one who goes out there'."

He added: "I can't guarantee the state I'll be in. The body is getting to the state where I'm trying to stay (at this level).

"I'm happy to give it all I've got. If I can physically front up to being there if there is an injury, then great. If not, then they're not losing much."

Jonathan Sexton, who is chasing his own European and league double with Leinster after winning the Amlin Challenge Cup and reaching the RaboDirect Pro12 final, has said he would relish the opportunity to work with Wilkinson.

A Lions tourist to Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005, Wilkinson recognises the value of older heads in the touring party.

But he also remembers that 2001 tour, when the Lions were beaten 2-1 in the Test series, as "the experience of a lifetime" - and he believes now is the time for Sexton and Owen Farrell to shine.

"There are guys showing the way forward and the Lions is like that," Wilkinson said. "It's been said that it will be a step backwards if they take me and as a proud sportsman you always disagree with that because you always believe you can add something.

"In 2001 there were older guys like Scott Quinnell, Keith Wood, so there is room for everyone. I was 21 years old, along with Brian O'Driscoll and Iain Balshaw, and it was the experience of a lifetime. I do like to see the likes of Owen Farrell and Jonny Sexton. He is a damned good player. All credit to them to crack into that tour."

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