Wilkinson brushes off tour fitness concerns

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson has played down concerns over his fitness and says he will be ready for England's first Test against Australia in Perth a week on Saturday.

The fly-half suffered bruising below his ribcage in Toulon's Challenge Cup final defeat against Cardiff Blues on 23 May and has yet to resume contact work as he continues to recover from his injury. Wilkinson will miss England's opening tour fixture against the Australian Barbarians on Tuesday, but insists there is no danger of him being ruled out of the trip.

"Injury-wise I'm fine," he said yesterday. "In terms of the rest of it, that is up to these guys. It's nice to be here with easily enough time to get ready to be on the training field at the same time as everyone else. I took a knock in the back in our last game of the season. I've already had a week [without contact work] and I'm being held back by the physios rather than anything else. I want to get out there, but they are telling me to take a few more days."

Wilkinson admitted that, after the injury problems that have ravaged his career since his drop goal secured England's 2003 World Cup triumph in Sydney, the prospect of playing in a fourth World Cup is a major motivation as the side's build-up to next year's tournament begins in earnest Down Under.

"It's an exciting year ahead and the process of getting older and playing rugby has actually been quite interesting to me, especially the last couple of years," he said. "I've made some big decisions in terms of where my career has gone. One thing I've learnt is that you can't say how long you will play for. When I was 18 I was saying I wanted to play until I was 45 – that's changed a bit now.

"A World Cup, regardless of how many more you have to play, is enough to focus on and if you get the chance is a big, big thing. To play one more would be enormous and that's the aim."

The England manager, Martin Johnson, will use the tour to help him trim his 44-man selection down to 32 by the time he names his elite-player squad for next season in July. "The build-up starts now in terms of World Cup preparation and it gives some guys genuine opportunity to advance themselves," he said.

"We have a big squad deliberately, we've brought 44 players, and it's the last time we'll be on tour before the World Cup in 2011. If we'd just played the two Test matches and brought 30 players then a certain number of guys wouldn't have played, so this gives guys a genuine opportunity to be involved in the senior group."

South Africa have withdrawn Butch James from Saturday's Test against Wales in Cardiff because Bath have refused to release him.

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