Johnson hails 'world class' Wilkinson
July 14, 2009
Jonny Wilkinson is back in training with Toulon © Getty Images
Wilkinson has been in pre-season training with his new club Toulon and has also flown through a fitness assessment with the England team. He was included in England's Elite Player Squad ahead of Danny Cipriani, a decision that Johnson has no qualms about.
Wilkinson, 30, has not played for 10 months after suffering a dislocated knee-cap, but Johnson has faith in his ability to recapture his best form in the coming season.
"How do I justify picking Jonny Wilkinson? Seventy caps, two World Cup finals and x amount of points (1032 in total) - the sort of player you are going to favour slightly! He is a world-class player when he's fit," said Johnson. "I think he can be as good as he ever was. Experience is a big part of being a good player and he's only 30 so potentially he could be at his peak because of his experience and what he's been through on and off the field over the last five, six, seven years.
"The guy, in my experience, has worked as hard as anyone on his fitness and his body. Jonny was in here last Friday for a fitness assessment and he is in good nick. I spoke to him yesterday and he's training fully down there (in Toulon) and he's raring to go."
Johnson also insisted that the door was still open to Cipriani, who endured another difficult period this summer when he slid behind Northampton's Stephen Myler in the England Saxons shake-up. Johnson insisted Cipriani's continued omission from the senior squad was down to form alone and had nothing to do with the celebrity fly-half's perceived attitude problem.
"Danny is just one of a number of young players who've had a taste of it, won a couple of caps and are now battling to get back into a competitive squad," said Johnson. "He's a talented young player. He's got areas of real strength and areas that he needs to improve, which is the same for most young players. He just has to work on those areas of weakness.
"That is what being a rugby player is about. If it was all easy all the time everyone could do it. We want guys who are desperate to play for England. These guys say they are and I am sure they are - they have to show us with their form."
Wilkinson has walked straight back in to the England setup, along with Riki Flutey, despite now plying his trade in France, a luxury not afforded to James Haskell and Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tom May (Toulon) and Jamie Noon (Brive). Johnson confirmed that negotiations were ongoing with the clubs to ensure player release, something that is not a problem for Wilkinson, who has a full release clause in his contract.
"If they go to France we need to be certain they can be here when Martin wants them," said RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew. "If we get halfway through the Six Nations and a couple of guys don't turn up then it will have impact on selection and then again for the 2010/11 season and the World Cup.
"So far the clubs and players are saying they can deliver what we want them to deliver but the proof is in the pudding."