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Gatland reveals Jonny Wilkinson turned down Lions Tour offer

A commitment to his club, Toulon, and fitness concerns saw the Englishman step back from the selection picture.

Jonny Wilkinson rips a pass in 2005.
Jonny Wilkinson rips a pass in 2005.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

LIONS COACH WARREN GATLAND has revealed that he called Jonny Wilkinson to offer him a place on the tour to Australia but was spurned in his advances.

The New Zealander, who named his 37-man Lions squad in London this morning, told Sky Sports News that he called the English outhalf the day after he kicked his club side, Toulon, into the Heineken Cup Final.

Gatland said, “He won’t go. He told me that he would not be available from the start of the tour. I rang him yesterday, after the semi-final. I was really impressed with how he performed. I sounded him out, that’s what the call was about.

“He is committed to Toulon and his body is holding together by its fingernails.”

Gatland selected only two outhalves in his squad and says Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has the ability to cover the bench, for midweek games, as outhalf/fullback cover. He added that Wilkinson ‘left it open’ as to his availability as an injury replacement, should the Lions require it later in the tour. He explained that the short preparation time eliminated the need for too many voices in the 10 jersey. He said:

By the time the First Test comes around, we want that 10, in terms of leadership, to have played four or five matches.”

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‘To have that experience as back-up may be vital’ – Gatland. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Former England internationals Will Greenwood and Stuart Barnes, speaking from Syon Park in London, where the announcement was held, have both proclaimed that Jonathan Sexton will be the undoubted starter in the 10 jersey. Barnes bemoaned the lack of Wilkinson’s name in the squad as the Saracens kicker, in his view, does not have a matchwinning nous off the bench. Andy Farrell, father of Owen, the other outhalf selected, spoke of the tough job he had, as Lions assistant coach, in keeping the squad news from his son.

He said, “Owen was waiting like a caged tiger to hear the news… I suppose he expected a bit of inside information but he was not getting it from his father.”

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