Wilkinson signs new Falcons deal
January 30, 2000

England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has pledged his future to Newcastle by signing a new two-year contract.

Wilkinson, who kicked 15 points in today's 26-30 Tetley's Bitter Cup fifth-round defeat by Wasps, has given the Falcons a timely boost on top of recruiting new Scotland captain John Leslie.

"It is very important that Jonny wants to stay with us. Recruiting John Leslie was a huge signing and showed to Jonny that we mean business," said Newcastle rugby director Rob Andrew.

"John Leslie is the best centre in Britain, and he will help to develop Jonny more than would have been the case at any other club."

Andrew said that he was unaware of any other offers being made to Wilkinson, and he was now looking forward to arguably English rugby's most precocious talent continuing his good work at the club.

Former England fly-half Andrew tonight joined the growing chorus of critics condemning English rugby's fixture schedule.

Most of England's top players have faced a punishing three-games-in-a-week spell, and national coach Clive Woodward will now be left to pick them up and dust them down before next Saturday's Six Nations Championship opener against Ireland at Twickenham.

"All the England players are on their knees," Andrew said. "Clive would do well to get them on a plane tomorrow and take them off to the south of Spain
the batteries are flat.

"The adrenaline will get them going for next weekend, but we are having no regard for the welfare of players, and we can't keep doing this to them.

"Rugby is now a very physical, almost brutal game, and we don't have that many world class players.

"When we've got one, all we do is smash him about. I don't want someone like Jonny Wilkinson to pack up the game when he is just 26, but it is crazy and we cannot carry on like this."

Andrew chairs the Club England taskforce charged with finding a sensible structure for the English game.

Andrew and company are on course to produce their final document for discussion by the Rugby Union Football management board on March 29, but much discussion is set to take place before then.

Wasps skipper Lawrence Dallaglio admitted that a 48-hour break "wouldn't be a bad thing" before reporting for England duty this week.

"You cannot compare like with like in terms of the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere," he said.

"You don't get three Super 12 games in a week leading up to an international in the southern hemisphere. Rugby is a one-game-a-week sport."

Wilkinson later added: "I'm absolutely delighted to have settled my future. I spoke to all the people that matter and I had no hesitation in committing my future to Newcastle for the next two years."

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