The possibility of Jonny Wilkinson joining next month's British and Irish Lions tour of Australia is still alive after the fly-half indicated he would "happily" fly out as a replacement if required.
Wilkinson, the recently crowned European player of the year, was omitted from the original party because of his end-of-season club commitments with Toulon.
The Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, speaking at the squad's base in Ireland, was swift to rule out any prospect of Wilkinson being added to the existing party before their departure for Hong Kong on Monday. England's record points-scorer, however, is now saying he will answer the call if injury were to strike either of the Lions two specialist No10s, Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell.
"I've been asked if I'll be an injury replacement and I've said 'quite happily'," said Wilkinson, fresh from captaining Toulon to their first Heineken Cup triumph at the weekend. "I can't guarantee the state I'll be in but I'm happy to give it all I've got. If I can physically front up to being there if there is an injury, then great. If not, they're not losing much. Let me get to the end of the season and see if I'm not the one who needs replacing rather than the one who goes out there."
The nightmare scenario for the Lions remains an untimely injury to Sexton in Saturday's RaboDirect Pro12 final, leaving the youthful Farrell as the solitary fit fly-half. If Toulon lose to Toulouse in Friday's French Top 14 semi-final, Wilkinson could also potentially be available to fly out with the Lions but, for now, Gatland is standing by his original selection. "We've been through the conversation that we had with Jonny and nothing's changed on that," Gatland said. "How do I say 'no' a different way? If we picked up an injury on tour then maybe there's a conversation to be had."
In Australia, even so, the view remains that Wilkinson, England's World Cup matchwinner in Sydney in 2003, will resurface at some point. "A Jonny Wilkinson appearance wouldn't surprise too many," said the Wallabies' coach, Robbie Deans. "What a remarkable story that would be if Jonny was to return, he has had a great career."
Wilkinson, ironically, is still in Dublin with his Toulon team-mates following Saturday's Heineken Cup win and clearly believes he could be a positive influence on tour. "It's been said that it will be a step backwards if they take me. As a proud sportsman you always disagree with that because you always believe you can add something," he said.
Gatland has called Deans's squad selection "predictable" and questioned the omission of the Queensland Reds' fly-half Quade Cooper. "I'd be surprised if he's not added later. From a rugby point of view it's surprising but unless we know what's happening behind the scenes it's hard to comment," he said.
Leinster say they expect the 2005 Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll to face Ulster in Saturday's Pro12 final and fly out to Hong Kong.
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