England v Barbarians, Twickenham, May 30
Johnson backs Wilkinson to win fitness battle
May 29, 2010
Wilkinson was forced out of last weekend's European Challenge Cup Final loss to the Cardiff Blues © Getty Images
England manager Martin Johnson is confident Jonny Wilkinson will be passed fit to return to Australia for the first time since the 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph.
Wilkinson has been advised by Toulon club medics to avoid all contact training until three days before England's first Test against the Wallabies on June 12 after suffering rib damage in their European Challenge Cup Final defeat to Cardiff Blues last weekend. But England, who will fully assess Wilkinson themselves tomorrow, have no reason to doubt he will make Monday's flight to Perth.
"To have Jonny in your squad is always a positive but if he is not fit he won't go and he won't play - but we are confident he is fit," said Johnson. "The physios are always working hard getting guys back on the field but we are confident he will be good to go. It is a muscle strain in his ribs. Some guys recover quicker from injuries, some are slower. We are confident he will be fit to travel and fit to train with us and play out there."
Wilkinson was never slated to be involved at Twickenham tomorrow, where England warm up for their five-match tour with a traditional Twickenham fixture against the Barbarians. And with Toby Flood in Guinness Premiership Final action today, Charlie Hodgson has the chance to stake a claim for a return to the Test arena. Hodgson last featured for England on the ill-fated summer tour to New Zealand, when he was dropped after the first Test and criticised by his coaches as a defensive liability.
But Johnson has been impressed by the way the 29-year-old playmaker has worked on his defence, which was epitomised by a brilliant try-saving tackle on Ugo Monye earlier this season. Johnson has told Hodgson that the door is open for a full Test return against the Wallabies if he takes his chance tomorrow.
"He could be involved in the Tests very easily," said Johnson. "You generally have two fly-halves in a 22. Toby and Jonny have done that for us all through the Six Nations. Jonny got a knock last week and hopefully he will be fit to compete for a spot over there but form is a powerful thing.
"That is why we are playing the midweek games - it gives the guys opportunities to take those steps through that midweek side. If they perform there and we think they are fit for the Test matches we will put them in there. You have to earn the right to play Test match rugby. Sometimes things happen and guys get injured and you get a shot.
"We want to see Charlie control the game for us, make his calls at appropriate times, execute when we are attacking. Defensively he will need to be strong and hold that channel up - they will probably have a go at him as we will have a go at their players round there. You are out there playing a Test match. He is an experienced player and has got some good guys around him. It is a chance for him to compete to be in Test match 22s."
The England side tomorrow features three uncapped players in Bath centre Shontayne Hape, Gloucester lock Dave Attwood and Newcastle prop Jon Golding. Paul Doran-Jones also gets another chance to don the red rose after winning his debut cap in the autumn as England struggled with a front-row injury crisis.
"Paul got a shot in the autumn. He thought it wasn't going to happen then but it did and he did pretty well and it is another chance for him as well," said Johnson. "Jon Golding has played well this year. Attwood is tenacious and gritty but he's also a pretty skilful player, athletic for a big guy and his line-outs have been good. He's a good ball-carrier. It's his first step on Sunday - it'll be another when he goes on tour and plays out there."