June International Tours

Wilkinson primed for Bok bashing



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World Cup winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has declared himself “fully fit and healthy”, ready to spearhead a depleted England’s first Test challenge against South Africa in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

That news will be music to the ears of head coach Brian Ashton, who has lost Harlequins wing David Strettle to the viral infection sweeping through the team and must continue playing a waiting game regarding centre Andy Farrell.

Strettle is in hospital after being hit by the stomach virus that has affected a handful of England players, including Wilkinson.

While Wilkinson has returned to training after spending two days in bed earlier this week, Strettle’s tour could be over.

Gloucester back Iain Balshaw will replace him and win his 30th cap, with the bench vacancy caused by his promotion being filled only once England had arrived in Bloemfontein on Friday.

“I am okay. I had a couple of days in bed, and I am coming through the back end of it now. It should be perfect timing – I trained today [Thursday],” Wilkinson told the media at the team’s base in Johannesburg.

“I have only really missed one training session, and I am fully fit and healthy.”

But Strettle, who shot to prominence during England’s Six Nations campaign earlier this season, has not been so lucky.

England team doctor Simon Kemp said: “David’s vomiting continued through yesterday [Wednesday], and he was unable to take fluids by mouth.

“He was therefore admitted to a local hospital for rehydration and monitoring, and while he has made good progress, he will not be fit to play on Saturday.”

England can now only hope Farrell makes it, and assistant coach Mike Ford added: “Andy is a tough guy. I think he will be there for us on the weekend.”

Wilkinson, whose career has been repeatedly stalled by injury setbacks since he kicked England to 2003 World Cup glory, starts his first Test for three months.

There are many who feel he should have been rested from the two-Test South Africa mission – which sees England facing the Springboks without numerous leading players – before far more significant business of World Cup training camps, warm-up games and then the Webb Ellis Trophy defence in France.

However, Wilkinson put on a brave face on Thursday.

“I have an opportunity to represent my country on a tour to South Africa, so I don’t really need any other reason to be here. I am here to try and add whatever I can to the team and the squad,” Wilkinson said.

“On a personal front, I am here to try to better myself, to further my learning which has been a bit stunted over the last three years, and get some experience under pressure against one of the best teams in the world.

“It is a valuable opportunity to learn and learn quickly, which is of the essence with the World Cup just around the corner. It is an ideal place to be, provided we go out there and we perform to our potential.”

Wilkinson steered England to a famous victory over the Springboks in Bloemfontein seven years ago, kicking all their points for a 27-22 success, yet he is not into history lessons and also distances himself from talk of South Africa wanting revenge for a 53-3 humiliation at Twickenham in 2002.

He added: “It is nice to go back to a place you have been before, but you quickly learn in this game that these are one-off moments.

“That occasion [Bloemfontein] took all 22 English players on the day and all their efforts to turn that game to what it was. It’s seven years on now, and two totally different sides.

“I have always been for the here and now in terms of rugby. I think 2002 was a bit of a one in a million game. It just so happened to turn our way, and I think it snowballed and maybe the scoreline didn’t quite tell the story.

“It was a big win for us, but there have been numerous games between the countries since then. In terms of aveng

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