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Wilkinson wants to play for Lions on Australian tour

Date

Mick Cleary in Menton, France

Jonny Wilkinson has declared himself available for next year's tour of Australia.

Jonny Wilkinson has declared himself available for next year's tour of Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Jonny Wilkinson has declared himself available for the Lions' tour to Australia.

Wilkinson was acting in his role as an ambassador for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, laying a commemorative tribute at the grave of rugby founder William Webb Ellis in Menton, on the French Riviera.

He will have only ceremonial duties at the World Cup having retired from international rugby last December. The British and Irish Lions, however, dance to a different beat.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland has already stated that he would be prepared to consider those not playing Test rugby. Wilkinson, who falls into that category, is keen to make up for what he calls one of the biggest disappointments of his sporting life — the Lions' 2-1 series defeat by the Wallabies in 2001.

"There's no way I could say no," said Wilkinson on Wednesday. "In terms of what the Lions represents, everything about it is enormous. It's such a fabulous thing. The joy is that it doesn't have to come with international rugby. You start, you give it everything and you finish. That's the beauty of it. You have got six weeks — get your boots on and get on with it."

There are several hurdles to clear before the dream has a chance of becoming reality, not least of which is the fact that Wilkinson's club, Toulon, is not prepared to release players if the team reaches the knockout stages of the top 14. The top 14 final is on June 1, the same day that the Lions take on the Barbarians in Hong Kong enroute to Australia. That conflict of interests may not arise if Toulon slips up.

Wilkinson acknowledges that he faces enormous competition from those in the thick of it — players such as Toby Flood and Owen Farrell with England; Ireland's Jonny Sexton; Rhys Priestland of Wales and the emerging Scot, Greig Laidlaw.

"I'm a 33-year-old foreign player in France and I'm not England's mainstay fly-half with 40 or 50 caps and leading the team," said Wilkinson. "There's an element of realism for me. There are a lot of good guys doing good things. Selection is out of my control. All I can do is play and see if I fit into those plans."

Wilkinson was unaware that Gatland had been in Toulon last month to check on the availability of players. The New Zealander has no qualms about considering Wilkinson.

"Jonny is still a fine player and he's only 33," said Gatland. "That's not old. The slate is clean for every player who wants to be considered. No one is ruled out. They don't have to be playing for their countries. What is important, though, is that they have to be coming from a side that is performing particularly well."

There is no disputing Wilkinson's credentials in that regard. Toulon reached the final of the Top 14 last season, losing to Toulouse. The team has galloped away in the league this season, winning its first six matches before sending a weakened team to Toulouse last weekend, where it suffered its first defeat. Wilkinson is the heartbeat of the Toulon side.

He will undoubtedly play a major role over the coming months, not only in the domestic championship but notably in the Heineken Cup. If Toulon should reach the later rounds of that competition, then Wilkinson would be parading his wares in an important shop window.

Wilkinson is also spurred on by his own frustrating experiences with the Lions. He missed the tour to South Africa in 2009 through injury, having struggled, as did everyone, four years earlier in New Zealand. He was riven with disappointment when the third Test in 2001 was lost in the last few minutes.

"It's niggling away at me," admitted Wilkinson. "I sat in the dressing room and it felt like a World Cup final loss. So much had gone into it. It's like trying to run a marathon, getting to the 25th mile and someone saying, 'that's it'. To complete one now you have to go right back to the start, knowing how hard the 25 miles were and knowing you could fall over after 10. It's tough."

Wilkinson is so rooted in the moment that he will set little store by what may or may not unfold in June. If he were ever to harbour doubts as to whether he is up to the challenge of the Lions, he could do worse than contact two old sparring partners, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio, both of whom made the 2005 tour despite having finished their distinguished England careers.

Wilkinson would be in very good company.

The Daily Telegraph, London

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Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG -1vs FJI -1 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00KPS
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinA 0vs RUpB 0 02:00Twic
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF1 0vs WQF2 0 02:00Twic
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
WSF1 0vs WSF2 0 03:00Twic
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
France 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0 0
Canada 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tonga 0 0 0 0 0 0
Japan 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Romania 0 0 0 0 0 0
Argentina 0 0 0 0 0 0
England 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 0 0 0 0 0 0
USA 0 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Fiji 0 0 0 0 0 0
Samoa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 0
South Africa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
 

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