British & Irish Lions
Gatland keeping a close eye on Wilkinson
ESPN Staff
April 12, 2013
Warren Gatland visits the Hong Kong Stadium ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour, Hong Kong, January 15, 2013
The Lions will kick-off their 2013 tour in Hong Kong © Getty Images

Warren Gatland has revealed that he has been monitoring Toulon's potential British & Irish Lions contingent as he seeks to close in on his final squad for the summer tour to Australia.

Gatland will announce his final party on April 30 and has previously said that a third of the spots on the tour - with the Kiwi expected to pick between 35 and 37 players - are up for grabs. He took in five matches over the last weekend of European rugby but was not present at Toulon for their match against Leicester.

Wilkinson was handed the Man of the Match award after he shone for the Top 14 giants contributing all 21 of their points. Gatland has been monitoring Wilkinson's form while also keeping abreast of how his team-mates are playing - Gethin Jenkins looks to be in the frame at loose-head while Steffon Armitage could be included as an option at openside.

But one potential spanner in the works is the scheduling of the Top 14 final on June 1. If Toulon reach the final then they will be playing on the same day as the Lions' first game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. Gatland has previously said that he will not pick players who cannot commit for the tour, which may put an end to the Toulon contingent's hopes of touring.

Despite this, Gatland has been keeping a close eye on Wilkinson and although he has not been playing Test rugby, he is still in the frame for a spot on the tour. "We've been watching the Toulon players carefully," Gatland told MSN. "They've had a great season so far. It will be interesting to see how they perform in their next game and how they get on travelling away from home in Europe. There are one or two other players who weren't involved in the international scene who we've been having a look at as well."

While Gatland was not present to witness Wilkinson's masterclass against the Tigers, he did see Paul O'Connell inspire Munster to victory over Harlequins. And the Lions coach admits that the second-row's performance "caught the eye."

Gatland added: "It will be interesting to see how he goes over the next couple of weeks. It was a very dominant performance from a very experienced player. You would expect him to come out and stamp his authority on the game, he did that and definitely took the eye of a number of people including ourselves particularly at line out time, around the field and his leadership qualities. I've a huge amount of time for Paul and all he has achieved.

"His successes have been with Munster and Ireland but probably if he looks back on his career he'd love to go on another Lions tour and get win a series in the Southern Hemisphere. It's something not a lot of players have achieved."

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