Jonny Wilkinson ready to answer Lions SOS should Warren Gatland come calling
Former England fly-half is prepared to join British and Irish Lions squad should injury hit either Jonny Sexton or Owen Farrell
After leading Toulon to Heineken Cup success on Saturday, Jonny Wilkinson has vowed to do everything he can in order to be fit to answer any call from British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland should injury hit the squad.
Wilkinson was left out of the original 37-man squad that will fly to Australia via a Hong Kong clash with the Barbarians after he couldn’t guarantee his availability due to his club commitments with the European champions.
The fly-half also admitted that his own fitness is a concern, with a long and gruelling season beginning to take its toll on the 2003 World Cup winner. But with just two recognised fly-halves in Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell heading Down Under, Wilkinson has agreed to be on standby should injury hit either of the two.
"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'.
"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."
Wilkinson still has work to do with Toulon, having already captained them in their 16-15 success over French rivals Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium last weekend. They face 19-times Top 14 winners Toulouse in the semi-finals of the domestic play-offs, and should they win they will most likely meet Clermont yet again in the end-of-season French showcase.
Sexton, who is tipped as the starting Test fly-half, is also chasing a European double having guided Leinster to Amlin Challenge Cup glory on Friday night with a comfortable 34-13 victory over Stade Francais.
The win sees them head into the RaboDirect Pro12 final against Ulster with silverware already under their belt, and Wilkinson understands the need for youth in the squad – much like his inclusion in 2001, but also recognises the value of having experience within the squad.
Farrell has struggled towards the end of this season, and with Saracens having crashed out at the semi-final stage in both the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup – in which Wilkinson’s Toulon comfortably dispatched them at Twickenham – questions have raised as to whether Wilkinson should be there as the back-up No. 10.
"There are guys showing the way forward and the Lions is like that," Wilkinson added. 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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