English Rugby
Wilkinson sees light at end of the tunnel
January 15, 2009

Injury-plagued fly-half Jonny Wilkinson insists he is still hungry for England honours and is hopeful of selection for the British & Irish Lions' tour of South Africa later this year.

The 29-year-old Rugby World Cup winner is currently recovering from a knee injury that will rule him out of the start of this year's Six Nations Championship but the Newcastle No.10 insists he is close to a return to action and want to pull on an England shirt again.

Asked if he expected to play for Martin Johnson's England again, the Falcons' fly-half replied emphatically, "Yes, definitely. I think I've been misunderstood a little before. What I've said when I've been asked is that ahead of those representative honours, I'm just trying to make the most of my personal ability," he explained to Sky Sports News. "I say instead of asking 'what do I need to do to get back into the England side?', 'what do I need to do to be my best?'."

Wilkinson, who dislocated his knee cap on Premiership duty in September, is set to embark on the latest stage of his rehabilitation in Vermont, USA under the watchful gaze of famous knee specialist Bill Knowles. Wilkinson's three-week trip, which will be jointly funded by the Falcons and the Rugby Football Union, will see him follow the lead of the likes of Charlie Hodgson, Richard Hill, Austin Healey and Dan Ward-Smith who are among those to have benefitted from Knowles' expertise.

Wilkinson's recovery received a significant boost a month ago when an arthroscopy confirmed that his first operation had been successful and although reluctant to pinpoint a date for his return he hopes to be fit, if not match fit by the time of his return from Vermont on February 6 - the day before England's Championship opener with Italy. "When I come back from this injury I hope to be very active, then it's about getting match fit - the onus is then on you and I enjoy that responsibility."

Looming large for Wilkinson is the prospect of a third Lions and has admitted it would be great to be involved in Ian McGeechan's squad. "I couldn't think of anything better, my whole life has been about getting the best out of myself. Time is maybe a little short but I'll enjoy that challenge and the journey towards the Lions tour. If I get there, great, if it doesn't (happen) I'll get the next one."

Wilkinson also believes England will bounce back from their disappointing November campaign and applauded the decision to recall Gloucester centre Mike Tindall and Sale wing Mark Cueto.

"The likes of Mike Tindall and Mark Cueto are proven talents that have played in the most intense atmospheres and that isn't a fluke - they're talents," Wilkinson said. "They've both had their injury troubles but they both keep coming back and that isn't easily done. That's the kind of consistency you need to bank on. You need that kind of consistency in training every day, but you also need it in the message - the authority and the experience from which they can speak off the field, which is perhaps the major part of the building process right now.

"For me, Martin Johnson's the right man because he knows how the game works and he knows what he wants. The difficulty is that there's no set formula for working with players, it's something that takes time so let's do it right and not go backwards. It's better to get the lessons learned now and build on it rather than get so far down the line and have to build it the year before the World Cup or something. Let's build now."

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