Former Lions captain Gavin Hastings believes Jonny Wilkinson will join up with squad during their Australian tour no matter how much Warren Gatlandsays otherwise.
The fly-half ruled himself out of the Lions selection process, instead deciding to focus on the upcoming Heineken Cup final with his current club, Toulon. And, despite Wilkinson’s man-of-the-match display that saw him kick the French club to European Cup success, Gatland was quick to stand by the decision to omit the Englishman from the Lions squad.
However, Wilkinson has since admitted his is ready and willing to join the touring team should an injury crisis occur, and Hastings believes it’s only a matter of time before the 33-year-old is on a plane heading toward the southern hemisphere.
Speaking at the UK launch of sports book Unibet, Hastings said: “I still think Wilkinson will have a role to play in the Lions squad. The longer the tour goes on, the more chance he has of being on the tour.
“He is the type of player that can come out, two days before the first test and, being the person that he is, still come on and turn the game around, score the winning drop-goal and win the test.
“He hasn’t enjoyed his best games in a Lions shirt, sometimes it doesn’t come round for you. He’s been a magnificent player in the last three games in Toulon’s run in the European Cup, so it’ll be very interesting to see what happens.
“I genuinely believe he’ll be out there and have a role to play. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and I think we all believe that Jonny will, at some stage, go out on tour.”
Wilkinson wasn’t the only surprise exclusion from the British and Irish squad, with England captain Chris Robshaw also being exiled from a squad consisting of 15 Welshmen, 10 Englishmen, nine Irishmen and just three Scots.
Hastings, however, was quick to defend Gatland’s squad selection, including the decision to appoint Welsh youngster Sam Warburton as captain.
“The coaches and management have thought long and hard and have chosen the squad they believe can deliver results for them.
“At the end of the day, the Lions just need to win two matches out of three and if they do that, they will create history and obviously, we all want that to happen. The end will justify the means.
“We can all comment on the squad but these guys believe they are picking the best squad to give them the best chance to win that series and time will tell if they’re correct.
“It’s absolutely right that Warburton is captain. I think he’s a terrific player, he’s a great ambassador for the game, hugely talented and he leads by example.
"And Warren Gatland, most importantly of all, knows him very, very well and knows what he’s capable of. I think it’s a great choice and there’s absolutely no doubt he’ll do a great job.”