Should Jonny Wilkinson tour with the Lions?

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Never too far from a debate surrounding the Lions, Jonny Wilkinson’s performance for Toulon at the weekend, in which he scored all 21 of his team’s points to lead them to a win over the Leicester Tigers, means that he has thrust himself back into contention for a touring spot.

As with every player under consideration for the Lions tour, there are pros and cons to taking Jonny Wilkinson. Considering the cons first, the most obvious, and one that Warren Gatland has publicly admitted could be an issue, is that he is likely to be in action in the Top 14 final, which clashes with the Lions’ opening fixture against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. Barring a cataclysmic loss of form, Toulon will be in the play-offs and probably the final, and Wilkinson is pretty much the first name on their teamsheet. He will certainly not be let go.

Then there is the assertion that his style of play is too limited. He is not the most attacking fly-half on offer, and at 33-years old he lacks the pace to bother defensive lines unduly. The Lions, however, are not blessed with great strength at fly-half, and there certainly aren’t many who can boast the game-changing ability or flair of a Dan Carter or Quade Cooper. In that sense, it becomes about weighing up what someone like Owen Farrell or Dan Biggar brings that Wilkinson doesn’t, and whether it is worth sacrificing Wilkinson’s experience and game management. He has, of course, been there and done it all before for the Lions in Australia in 2001. Losing that tour 2-1, he probably has some unfinished business.

There are plenty of facets of his game that would appeal to Gatland and the Lions. His performance against the Tigers was a masterclass in game management and control, and if there was ever a man you wanted at fly-half to close out a tight game, it would be him. His ability to ghost back into the pocket and knock over a drop goal is unparalleled in world rugby – as the nation of Australia will testify. There are also few players who bring Wilkinson’s level of dedication to the game. Some might call it obsessive, but anyone who is out practising his kicking at 10.30am the morning of a match (as he was on Sunday) obviously cares a great deal about his team and about winning. That is not a bad message to get across to younger members of the squad, who may get caught up in the whole Lions experience.

He is far from the complete package, but then you could argue that about any of the Lions’ options at fly-half. What he has done is throw his hat firmly into the ring for selection, and whether he goes or not he must now be considered as a genuine option. At the moment, despite being injured for large parts of the Six Nations, Johnny Sexton is still the number one choice. Wilkinson could, however, at least make an excellent touring squad member.

Have your say by voting in our poll below, and giving your opinion in the comments section.

Should Jonny Wilkinson be selected for the Lions tour?

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30 thoughts on “Should Jonny Wilkinson tour with the Lions?

  1. voted no, he has retired from international rugby and stated that he doesn’t think he should go on tour due to the need for younger players to be given the chance to develop

    1. He’d love to go, though. And there’s nothing “developmental” about the Lions anyway, it’s not like the Australia tour is a building block for New Zealand 2017.

  2. Really difficult. I pretty much change my mind daily. I clicked yes and then instantly thought no so basically I don’t know. I am just glad I’m not Gatland.

    His performances this season have been as good, if not better, than any other Lions 10 option, and therefore you’d think take him. As Geat rightly pointed out, the Lions aren’t building towards anything so developing younger players are irrelevant; it all about form and now!

    If Sexton is fit, he would be my first choice. Farrell also should go. If Gatland wants a third 10, I am struggling to find another one that can justify his place over Wilkinson.

    BUT, I am not convinced he will take three 10’s. They only took two in 2009, with Flutey as a third option.

    My bet would be Laidlaw will go as the third option at both 9 and 10.

    Obviously the above is based upon Sexton being fit. If he isn’t, it throws it all up in the air. Farrell and Wilko are too similar, so I am not sure just having them two is a good idea. The trouble is I don’t know where to turn next.

    Madigan anyone?

    1. the lions in 09 took Stephen Jones, O’Gara and Hook as 10’s. Flutey was also considered an option, which means that they had 4 possible flyhalfs.

      Gatland has said that he will take 2 10’s. But i wouldnt be surprised if we see at least one of Laidlaw, Hook, Madigan or Twelvetrees travel, as all could be seen as cover at 10.

      with gatland saying he will take only 2 10’s, i think that wilko’s chances are going to be very slim

  3. “Then there is the assertion that his style of play is too limited. He is not the most attacking fly-half on offer, and at 33-years old he lacks the pace to bother defensive lines unduly” Nevertheless he totally outplayed Flood in about every facit of the game. Do we really want say Madigan as back up to Sexton, very talented but a loose cannon, or somebody rock solid to bring on in the last 20 minutes to lock out the game. Seems pretty obvious to me

    1. I see your point Roy, but is Farrell not there for that?

      As I mentioned in my post above, in all depends on Sextons fitness.

    2. also its great to have someone to come on an close a game out in the last 20. but what if you are in the position where you need to bring someone on to go and create a moment of magic to win the game? i personally wouldnt go to wilko or farrell for that.

  4. I think the best point made in the above article is that of Wilkinson being the man to close games out. If he takes Wilkinson, Sexton and Farrell, then he has the ability to start the top choice (Sexton) at the weekends and then test. With Farrel starting the mid-week. Wilkinson would be on the bench for probably every game. But what a man to bring on with 20-30 mins left of a match!
    Secondly, having him in the touring party can only help the vibe – this guy has done this before….he took down the Wallabies in 03. The kicking that would rub onto sexton and farrel would be incredible.

  5. I can’t believe I’m saying this but no, I don’t think Wilko should tour. His involvement in the top14 final is a real problem but more importantly, what does he offer that Farrell doesn’t? Temperament, goal-kicking, and game management are all attributes that Farrell has in abundance.

    Also, where does Hook rank? I’ve not seen much of him this season but I hear his performance against Tolouse at the weekend was very good and he offers centre (and full-back) cover as well….

    1. I see what you mean with Farrell, but Wilkinson offers more in terms of game management – tactical kicking, drop goals etc. And in an instance where this is not a development tour, why take the younger, improving version over the veteran who might not have the steam for a whole game but would control for the closing stages

  6. yes with halfpenny in the side at 15, sexton probably the starting 10, farrell on the bench the kicking options are fantastic already so gatland may wish to take two 10s. with laidlaw also likely to tour the lions options for place kicking are fantastic even without wilkinson. the question really is whether sexton is able to tour…..

  7. For me it’s a yes. Everyone is asking what does Wilkinson bring that Farrell doesn’t. It’s experience. He knows how to win in Australia and has done it numerous times. He also has a point to prove when it comes to the Lions touring Australia, as pointed out.

    However. If the question was “Will Wilkinson tour with the Lions” my bet would be no. Gatland has clearly stated that he wants the whole squad on the plane to Hong Kong so for that reason he won’t make the cut. Don’t be surprised to see him called up as cover for an injury in the backs though.

      1. Here we go: “If there are any French players involved when it comes to selection, we might need to have conversations. But ideally we all want to be on the plane to Australia together.

        If not, you don’t want players arriving a day or two before we play our first game in Australia against Western Force. It is tough enough as it is the most challenging coaching experience I’ve ever faced, and you don’t want to make it harder.”

        1. seems like nick has answered that question.

          however there is the fact that Jenkins may A) not be selected in the match squad for the final (slim chance that this would happen) or B) seeing as Jenkins is leaving anyway, he can opt to play for the lions and not Toulon, its not like he will care about upsetting the apple cart. There is a claws in the IRB laws that says players must be released if selected for the tours – usually with a window of 1 June until 2nd weekend of July.

          Basically this means that TECHNICALLY Gatland could have any Lions qualified Toulon player (or other teams too) that he wants. they MUST be released on the 1st of June (the day of the Top 14 Final).

          for any interested, its IRB regulation 9.6b(i)

  8. Players should get picked on current form, what they bring to the game and how well they’re playing; Jonny Wilkinson at the moment is the top 10 amongst the Lions contenders. Yes he may not be the fastest anymore, but he’s one of the best managers, his defence is unquestionable, and his boot is near faultless. He’ll be a presence in the team not just on the pitch but off, his personality took a questionable England to 2007 world cup final. He deserves at the very least a place on the plane.

    1. “his personality took a questionable england to 2007 world cup final”

      by all accounts wilko doesnt have too much of a personality… his PERSONA may have taken england there, but i doubt his personality did.

      it is very well documented that on tours like this Wilko keeps himself tucked away and works very hard behind the scenes. He isnt a great character, and only really sets an example of the utmost professional.

      but lets be honest, the lions isnt about being professional. it is a throw-back to the amateur tours of old. if it was tour all about professionalism, then i guarantee we would be seeing at least a 45man squad, with 4 10’s travelling. instead we will see 37(ish) men, and by all accounts only 2 10’s. Guys with versatility hold much more value on a lions tour than they tend to do anywhere else in rugby these days. the idea of the lions is about a small group of blokes coming together and taking on a nation. you need characters to bond the group quickly. the 09 lions had guys like Powell, O’Callaghan and Murray to bind them. people who were really involved in the test team, but brought character instead.

      if sexton fails to get fit, then we may see jonny travel, as an experienced 10, but otherwise i highly doubt we will see him go.

  9. What does Wilko bring that Farrell doesn’t?

    Experience, game management, passing ability, choosing the correct options and a masterful understanding of rugby union.

    Jonny hasn’t really lost any pace as he was never quick. He’s playing as well as he ever has and Gatland would be silly not to take him.

    So what if he’ll miss the HK match? There’s no guarantee Toulon will be in the Top14 final. Their form has slipped a little in France of late even though they’re still top.

  10. Jonny Wilkinson should be one of first on the plane! He is playing as well as ever in a great Toulon side. We all know about his goal and kicking for position, but his defence is also great. Neither Flood or Farrel have all these attributes and although i am sure that both will go, Jonny is and should be the number one fly half!

    1. A) i highly doubt that both Flood and Farrell will go.
      B) have to agree with B, you seem to be forgetting Sexton.
      C) Farrell seems to only have goal kicking, kicking for position and defence. he chucks the occasional good pass too, but to say that those 3 things wilko has and he doesnt seems a bit wrong to me…

  11. I was really impressed with Jonny at the weekend, no sign of the ponderous shadow of the former player standing a mile behind the gainline we saw at the RWC.

    I voted no however, on grounds of availability. If we did lose Sexton however then I think he’s a must so there is an experienced FH in the touring party (and sadly I don’t think Flood is consistent enough)

  12. the poll is a bit premature. i would trust warren gatland to pick an in form team, and based on current form, wilkinson and o’gara both turned back the years. but assuming sexton is fit and ready and gets game time and plays to his top form i would send him with wilkinson as things are now.

  13. Sexton should be first choice with Farrell as back-up. Let’s not forget we have other good kicking options who should feature in the tour squad (Leigh Halfpenny and Greig Laidlaw) so I think we can cope without Wilko. While he and O’Gara are undoubtedly brilliant, it’s time to look to the future

    1. As far as the Lions are concerned the future should extend only as far as July. As someone said above, this isn’t a development for the Lions Tour of 2017.

      Charlie, you are correct about the kicking options, but of course, he is a FH, not just a kicker. I rather think he should go as back-up to Sexton and Farrell.

  14. Sexton is injured and Farrell has never proved himself on the big stage when he has to fight for it, Wilkinson has. Enough talk of the future,the Lions is about the present. Wilkinson is by far the best fly half playing at the moment and deserves to be there on current form let alone his proven past.

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