Jonny Wilkinson’s humble and self-effacing nature was once again to the fore last weekend, when, upon winning a Heineken Cup winner’s medal, he was asked about his chance of joining the Lions in Australia.
His response was as follows: “I’ve been asked if I’ll be an injury replacement. I’ve said 'quite happily’. But 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.”
It is great to see that he can laugh at the irony of being listed as an injury replacement, having had such a torrid time with them himself in the past.
Such is his form, however, that Lions fans will be delighted to know he has been shortlisted as one of the men to be called up.
In the Heineken Cup final against Clermont at the weekend Wilkinson skippered his largely un-fancied Toulon side to victory over the favourites. In a squad that has been expensively assembled – and labelled a group of mercenaries by some – that is no mean feat.
To bring fifteen men together to play like a team is tough enough when you have been a group for years, let alone for under a season. For that Wilkinson deserves great credit, and it is a character trait that would be invaluable on a Lions tour that features players thrown together and expected to gel in very little time at all.
That leadership role hasn’t diminished his on-field brilliance, either. His goal-kicking was, as always, exemplary and in the end vital. If he had missed just one of those kicks the trophy would have been heading to a very different part of France.
On such small margins are trophies – and tours – decided, and there is no one you would want more to handle that pressure than Wilkinson. In defence he still throws his body shudderingly into every tackle, and does plenty of unseen work at the breakdown that often goes unnoticed.
You suspect that it doesn’t matter who is the unlucky one to be hit with an injury now – be it prop or fullback– it will be Wilkinson who will be called up. The only reason he is not in the squad already is that he wanted to focus on the end of his club season with Toulon, and quite rightly so. If he comes through that unscathed, however, it is tough to see him not playing a part in that famous Lions jersey at some point this summer.
image: © adifans