So the great English lionheart of his generation might roar in Australia this summer after all. Jonny Wilkinson’s renaissance at Toulon had more than one expert witness investing in the idea of another wonder Down Under ten years after he kicked England to the top of the world in Sydney.
As Wilkinson demonstrated in kicking all 24 points to take Toulon to the Heineken Cup final, there is enough now left in Wilkinson to justify his inclusion. It would appear that Warren Gatland recognised that, too, but was persuaded otherwise by Wilkinson himself, who thought his body would not stand the rigours of a whole tour.
Nevertheless on the day when Gatland sprang a surprise with the selection of Matt Stevens in the front row, it is the old England face not travelling with the initial tour party that dominates the chat in rugby salons.
Wilkinson’s name glowed hotter because of the lack of compelling competition for the fly-half berth. Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton probably takes the jersey with Owen Farrell pushing him hard for the starting spot. The latter was eclipsed by Wilkinson last weekend, steering Toulon to victory over Saracens with the kind of controlled precision required of the Lions in June.
That the pivotal moment should feature a Wilkinson drop goal a split second before Farrell barrelled into him with the tackle highlighted why Wilkinson might have been on the plane instead of sitting by the phone on standby. Under the cosh, when the game was there to be won, Wilkinson delivered a defining touch of class. The kick was low and just the right side of the upright. Fractions decide big games and this one typified a career.
Farrell is the present incumbent of the no.10 England shirt worn with distinction by Wilkinson. Though international rugby is no longer part of Wilkinson’s thinking, a Lions Tour is about the present not the future. The Lions are not grooming a squad to compete in the next World Cup, but a team to win now.
Given the brutality of the hit count in the modern game there is every chance Wilkinson will feature. Few have seen a career blighted so much by injury. A call, however late, to Australia of all places, would be some consolation.