Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Wilkinson keeps Gatland in the dark

Jonny Wilkinson declined the chance to tour Australia with the British and Irish Lions this summer

Warren Gatland insists the possibility of Jonny Wilkinson joining the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in the event of injury remains shrouded in doubt.

Wilkinson was offered a place in the 37-man squad announced on Tuesday morning, but declined due to his club commitments with Toulon and the deteriorating state of his fitness.

When Gatland suggested he could be on standby in the event that recognised fly-halves Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell were injured, the 33-year-old former England fly-half was non-committal. "We had the discussion about if someone picks up an injury. There was no yes or no from him," he said.

"He just said he wasn't quite sure if he was going to have an operation in an off season. He is managing himself from week to week at the moment, not doing a lot of training and he said he was hanging on by his finger nails.

"To take someone like that on the Lions tour and get through the physical demands that there are would be hard. But if one of the 10s get an injury and is a couple of weeks out and Jonny is fit and available, then that's another discussion. We left it open-ended like that."

With Wilkinson having been offered a place on the tour, it is possible that Farrell would have missed out with Gatland indicating that only 37 players would travel. Wilkinson and Farrell went head-to-head in Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final between Toulon and Saracens with England's World Cup-winning fly-half producing a man of the match display.

"We could have taken three 10s and we understand that potentially there is a little bit of a risk. We only took two 10s in 2009," said Gatland, who revealed Scotland's Stuart Hogg will offer fly-half cover.

"But we felt like it was such a pivotal position in terms of the role, leadership and direction that we wanted whoever the two 10s were to get a number of games under their belt.

"Take a third 10 and you're trying to give him a couple of games as well and maybe you are arriving at the third Test and both 10s are a little underdone."

When asked whether he would have taken three fly-halves had Wilkinson accepted, Gatland replied: "We didn't even have that discussion. I am just speculating now. I don't know. He didn't say yes so we didn't actually have to have that conversation. Jonny was someone we have always had in the back of our minds in terms of potential."

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