British & Irish Lions
Wilkinson handed Lions lifeline
December 13, 2012
Jonny Wilkinson was on the Lions' last tour to Australia in 2001 © Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson has been given fresh hope of touring with the British & Irish Lions for a third time next summer.
Despite retiring from international rugby last year, the 33-year-old hopes his form for high-flying Toulon will force his way on to the plane to Australia for the three-test tour with the Wallabies. And the former England international was given cause for optimism by Rob Howley, who was named as one of Warren Gatland's three assistant coaches on Wednesday.
"He (Wilkinson) is playing in a good team at Toulon, who are going pretty well in the Heineken Cup, and Warren has said that all players who are in contention will be looked at," said Howley, who formed a Test half-back partnership with Wilkinson on the last Lions tour of Australia in 2001.
"I'm sure Toulon will be in the quarter-finals and they are the games you need to be playing - quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, if you're not playing international rugby. We have to see the players under pressure in those sorts of situations."
Ireland's Jonny Sexton remains favourite to be the Lions starting No.10 against the Wallabies but who will join him on the plane is far from clear at this stage. A serious Achilles injury appears to have ended Rhys Priestland's hopes while England duo Owen Farrell and Toby Flood continue to squabble over the England No.10 shirt, with both the struggling to convince at times.
That could throw the door open to Wilkinson who toured with the Lions in 2001 and 2005 but his challenge is set to depend on his form for Toulon in the Heineken Cup.
Howley said: "I enjoyed Sexton's performances during the autumn series, and the likes of Owen (Farrell) and Toby (Flood). They are all different styles of 10 and there will be a lot of analysis on those players in the next three or four months.
"It's competition, and that's what brings the best out of them. None of them have been on a Lions tour, so it will be interesting to watch them under the microscope during a Six Nations, in a Lions year. Particularly as a No 10, a key ingredient in performances is how they react under pressure."
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