June International Tours

Wilkinson close to returning to his best form


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Jonny Wilkinson won over the baying faithful of new club Toulon just by having the nerve to address them in French.

Now, the 70-time England outside-half, an off-season signing from Newcastle, is back to his old ways bossing a Toulon side that looks as if it might just be in the mix come the end of the gruelling Top 14 season.

On Sunday, Wilkinson kicked three penalties and three drop-goals for all of Toulon’s points in their 18-13 win over traditional powerhouses and three-time European champions Toulouse.

The game was played in a cauldron-like atmosphere at the Stade Velodrome, the home of top-flight French football club Marseille, and Wilkinson duly shined in the Test-like spotlight.

Ironically, the last time the 30-year-old played at the Velodrome, he kicked four penalties to steer England to a 12-10 World Cup quarter-final win over Australia in 2007.

And he is hoping his club form will clear a path into Martin Johnson’s England squad for autumn Tests against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand at Twickenham in November.

“I am excited at the prospect of being involved,” Wilkinson said, cited by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

“It’s where you want to be. It’s the experiences you know you can’t be without – and I know, as I had to be without them for enough years.

“Playing for England you feel challenged, you go to the depths of your zones of comfort and then you are asked to step outside them whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. You go to places where you have never been before. I have missed that.”

Toulon coach Philippe Saint-Andre added that Wilkinson’s revival was as timely for England as for the Mediterranean club.

“Jonny is looking more and more comfortable,” the former Sale coach said.

“‘With another five or six games, he will be back to his best for England in November.”

Johnson also had some words of encouragement for Wilkinson, who will face competition from Brive’s Andy Goode, Toby Flood, and a trio of young bloods in Stephen Myler and Shane Geraghty of Northampton, and Wasps’ media darling Danny Cipriani.

“Well, you can’t be anything but impressed when you pay with a guy, train with a guy, see what this guy is prepared to go through to try to be successful,” Johnson said in reference to the raft of injuries Wilkinson has suffered and overcome.

“I’ve played with some pretty dedicated players but, for him, I’m trying to pick the right word because it’s beyond dedicated,” the England coach told the Sunday Times.

As for Wilkinson himself, he was his usual magnanimous self after his sterling display against Toulouse, essentially marshalling his team against a full France backline.

“Personally, I think that with my experience the most important thing is not my individual performance, that I will always be able to improve, but the result of the team.”

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