Reports emanating from Newcastle this morning have suggested that Jonny Wilkinson is poised to join Martin Johnson’s coaching team if the World Cup winning captain chooses to accept the management of the England team. In an extraordinary development, it is thought that Wilkinson will be installed as kicking coach and as a consultant on back play, including attack and defence. While there will be another full time backs coach who will concentrate more on the skills side, Wilkinson is likely to have significant input into the tactics and approach of the team.
Wilkinson has only been out of the England starting line-up for one game and is certainly not retiring, but this is evidence that he is already thinking about the next stage of his career in rugby. With the emergence of a string of young rivals led by Danny Cipriani, but also including Ryan Lamb, Shane Geraghty, Toby Flood and Charlie Hodgson, perhaps Wilkinson has reconciled himself to the fact that his days at the top are numbered. This would be an extraordinary admission for a man as dedicated and ambitious as Wilkinson but after Cipriani’s performance against Ireland, perhaps he thinks it is time to carve out a new niche for himself.
This news is further evidence of the fact that Johnson appears likely to agree to manage England and that he will have full power to hire and fire as he sees fit. It appears that he wishes to surround himself with trusted lieutenants whom he knows and trusts. Wilkinson will still be available to play but this news also casts further doubt over the future of Brian Ashton. Were Johnson to take over, then the only way Ashton could really be retained is as backs coach. The introduction of Wilkinson, even in a consultative role, may be the thing which leads Ashton to decide that there is no future for him in the set up. It would undermine him even more than he has been already.
Still, the prospect of Johnno and Jonny pooling their vast array of knowledge is an enticing one. What price a role for Neil Back as defence coach to create a World Cup winning coaching triumvirate? If they cannot create a winning mentality then we are beyond redemption.