Wilkinson signs three-year deal to repay Falcons

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson would be the first to admit that in pure value-for-money terms he has been about as much use as a chocolate teapot over the last 18 months. So what have Newcastle done? Signed him up for another three years at the knockdown price of £750,000, give or take a gold ingot or two.

Jonny Wilkinson would be the first to admit that in pure value-for-money terms he has been about as much use as a chocolate teapot over the last 18 months. So what have Newcastle done? Signed him up for another three years at the knockdown price of £750,000, give or take a gold ingot or two.

Wilkinson, just about fit enough to start the last Premiership game of the season having missed great swathes of the preceding 21 matches, finally put pen to paper yesterday after a prolonged round of negotiations.

"By going for a three-year contract this time, I think I've given a good indication to everyone of how happy I am at Kingston Park," said England's captain in absentia. "It's a privilege to be a part of this club. The supporters have been incredible during the times when I've been down - times that have been the lowest of my entire life. I couldn't have asked for more than they've given me, and it's now up to me to pay them back.

"These people are always there for us - to be totally blunt about it, they pay our wages - so it's for myself and the rest of the players to somehow give them something in return.

"At times this season we haven't done that. We need to be more consistent and show these people who support us every weekend just what they mean to us personally and to the club in general."

Wilkinson will face London Irish tomorrow, having made what he hopes is a complete recovery from the knee problems he first suffered during a Heineken Cup pool match against Perpignan in January.

He has not played in front of his home crowd since scoring the winning try against Sale in a Premiership game almost four months ago, but his second-half performance at Northampton in the last round of League fixtures convinced him that his many and varied trials and tribulations were behind him at last.

"I haven't felt this fit for a long, long time," Wilkinson asserted. "There have been a few weeks of training now where I haven't had to think about the injury every day, and that is always a good sign.

"There was no physical reaction after Northampton. It was a classic first game back - I felt very fresh and very involved - but it was a little different because I hadn't been through it for such a long time. I was lying awake at 5am after the match, wondering why I couldn't stop thinking about it and why I couldn't sleep. It will be fantastic to play a home match, because I've missed it massively."

He will not lead Newcastle tomorrow - Rob Andrew, the director of rugby, has left the captaincy duties with the Welsh flanker Colin Charvis - but that will hardly be of concern to Sir Clive Woodward as he awaits confirmation of the outside-half's form and fitness ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand this summer.

"I absolutely have aspirations to go on the trip," Wilkinson confirmed. "It's a huge goal for me. The next month for me is the key. I have a lot to prove to myself and many other people. If I'm asked to go, it will be an honour."

While Wilkinson is half in and half out of the squad - he will travel only if he stacks up over the next three weeks or so - the Bath prop Matt Stevens is very much on board. Whether he stays on board after damaging knee ligaments during last Sunday's narrow victory over London Irish in Reading is a moot point.

Stevens, important to the tourists because of his ability to play on either side of the scrum, visited a specialist in London yesterday and was told he had sustained a "very strong grade one posterior cruciate ligament strain", which sounded almost as alarming as it did long-winded.

He will definitely miss the rest of the domestic campaign, but there is at least a chance of a return to fitness in time for the Lions' warm-up match against Argentina in Cardiff on 23 May.

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