British & Irish Lions
Deans expects Wilkinson to join Lions mix
May 20, 2013
An in-form Jonny Wilkinon steered Toulon to the Heineken Cup crown on Saturday © Getty Images
Wilkinson turned down an offer to join Lions coach Warren Gatland's 37-man squad citing his commitments with Top 14 side Toulon with the French domestic season not set to finish until June 1 - the same day as the Lions' opening game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
The former England fly-half is targeting a notable double having steered Toulon to victory over Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup final at the weekend with his side set to tackle Toulouse in the Top 14 semi-finals on Friday night. The winnner of that heavyweight clash will take on either Clermont Auvergne or Castres in the title decider with Wilkinson's focus now centred on what would be Toulon's first league title since 1992.
But Deans is wary of the in-form playmaker, who landed 17-straight kicks in the knock-out stages of this season's Heineken Cup and was named the European Player of the Year yesterday, and expects the 33-year-old to join up with the Lions at some point during the 10-game tour ahead of their three-Test showdown with the Wallabies.
"A Jonny Wilkinson appearance wouldn't surprise too many," Deans told talkSPORT. "The Lions nominated two fly-halves [Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton] and that allows them to go head-to-head for a starting position and get consistent preparation time but it wouldn't surprise us at all. What a remarkable story that would be if Jonny was to return, he has had a great career."
Lions coach Warren Gatland refused to be drawn on the likelihood of a fresh approach for Wilkinson during a break in his side's latest training camp in Dublin. "We've been through the conversation that we had with Jonny and nothing's changed on that," the Kiwi said. "If we picked up an injury on tour then maybe there's a conversation to be had. Jonny's a good player, but we've had the conversation about him."
Wilkinson has also recently revealed that concerns over his fitness were a factor in his decision to shun the offer from Gatland with a fresh operation likely to be required if he is to fulfil the one-year contract he signed last month but he remains the leading candidate to be an injury replacement should one be required to bolster the options at fly-half.
"Warren did mention the opportunity to come out to Australia as a replacement if needed," Wilkinson said earlier this month. "I told him where I am at the moment, that there's a bit of day-to-day management where my body is concerned. I said that I would still be more than interested in having a chat nearer the time if needed. I'll see how I am at the end of the club season and if Warren needs me and I am able to get involved, that would be fabulous."
Gatland will be an anxious spectator of Leinster's PRO12 decider against Ulster and Leicester's Aviva Premiership final against Northampton on Saturday, hoping that injuries are avoided. "We've been quite lucky so far. Fingers crossed that after the two finals the boys will turn up on Sunday and fly out on Monday," he said.
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