Wilkinson: Time for new Lions era

Sun, 28 Apr 2013 17:54
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Jonny Wilkinson feels younger flyhalves deserve British and Irish Lions selection despite his commanding display in Sunday's European Cup semifinal.

England great Jonny Wilkinson suggested younger flyhalves were more deserving of British and Irish Lions selection despite his commanding display in Toulon's European Cup semifinal win over Saracens at Twickenham on Sunday.

Returning to the ground where he was on the winning side in 36 out of 42 Tests, the 33-year-old - who retired from England duty in 2011 - rolled back the years by kicking all of Toulon's points with seven penalties and a trademark drop-goal in a 24-12 victory for the French club.

Lions coach Warren Gatland, who was in the crowd at Twickenham, is due to name his squad to tour Australia on Tuesday.

The New Zealander has indicated he won't select French-based players as the final of France's domestic Top 14 Championship takes place on June 1 - the same day the Lions begin their tour with a match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

Toulon are in the Top 14 semifinals and Sunday's victory, which set up an all-French European Cup Final against fellow first-time finalists Clermont in Dublin next month, left them on course for a notable double.

Wilkinson, a Lions tourist when the side last visited Australia in 2001 and again four years later in New Zealand, said younger flyhalves including Saracens and England's Owen Farrell, who landed four out of five penalties on Sunday, deserved a chance to wear the famous red shirt.

"There's young players like Owen Farrell and Toby Flood for England, Dan Biggar for Wales and Ireland's Jonny Sexton, who are taking rugby forward and it's their era," said Toulon captain Wilkinson, England's record points scorer.

"I want those guys to experience that because they deserve it. I'm digging my fingernails in and hanging on really."

The match was still in the balance, with Toulon 18-12 up and seven minutes left when Wilkinson, under pressure from the 21-year-old Farrell, landed a superb drop-goal to seal victory over London side Saracens.

It might not have been quite as momentous as the drop-goal that saw England beat Australia to win the World Cup a decade ago, but it was a sign the old master hadn't lost his touch.

"I apologised to Owen and said I've got lucky there," Wilkinson, whose 24-point haul was an individual record for a European Cup semifinal, added.

"I hit that not really knowing where it was going and he caught me with the hit," said Wilkinson who, like Toulon, is now set for a maiden European Cup Final appearance.

"I thought it was going the other side of the posts but it crept in. I thought Owen did a great job today and maybe didn't deserve that."

But for Wilkinson this victory was yet another impressive performance to add to his collection of Twickenham memories.

"I remember it being great here but it gets better and better. It's been a great day - a day to remember."

AFP

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