Wilkinson eyes Lions swansong
Jonny Wilkinson may have retired from England duty but he would relish one last hurrah with the British and Irish Lions next summer - to settle some unfinished business in Australia.
- Related Content
Wilkinson counts the 2001 Test series defeat to the Wallabies as one of the biggest disappointments of his career and the fact he has not won with the Lions still nags away at him.
The Toulon fly-half stood down from representing England in December after 91 Tests and he has no regrets, despite the obvious attractions of a home Rugby World Cup looming on the horizon.
Wilkinson no longer felt comfortable in a changing England environment but the Lions is a different entity altogether and he would relish the chance of a return to Australia in 2013.
"There's no way I could say no. In terms of what that represents, everything about it, it's enormous. Such a fabulous thing,'' Wilkinson said.
"The joy is the fact it doesn't have to come with international rugby. It doesn't matter where you come from. You have got six weeks, get your boots on and get into it.''
In 2001, the Lions beat Australia in an extraordinary first Test but lost an epic series. Four years later, Wilkinson and the Lions were blown away by New Zealand.
"It is niggling away at me (that I haven't won a series with the Lions),'' added Wilkinson, who was not fit to be considered for the 2009 tour of South Africa.
"In 2001 I sat in the changing-room after the third Test and it felt like a World Cup final loss. I'd say it was up there (with the biggest disappointments of my career), definitely.
"Australia were on fire at the time and that first Test was incredible.
"The second Test was incredible up to a point and the third Test was just a great game. Knowing we had a shot (at the series win), the disappointment was ridiculous.
"It's like trying to run a marathon, getting to the 25th mile and someone saying: 'That's it.'
"To complete one you need to go right back to the start, knowing how hard the 25 miles were and knowing you could fall after 10 miles next time, like we did in 2005."
Warren Gatland mentioned Wilkinson's name in despatches on his appointment as the Lions coach, confirming pedigree players not involved in Test rugby would be considered for selection.
"He's still a fine player and only 33. Whether it is Jonny Wilkinson or whoever, it's all about how players are performing for their clubs or countries,'' Gatland said.
Toulon are currently top of the French league table with six wins from seven matches - but Wilkinson is realistic that he may not feature in the final selection jigsaw.
"There are a lot of guys doing a lot of good things in home nations rugby at the moment,'' Wilkinson said.
"All I can do is play and see if I fit into those plans. If I don't, I'll make the best of what I've got here which, let's face it, is good enough.
"Coming to Toulon has changed my life and each season has become more and more important.
"This one is phenomenal. Maybe it's because I'm coming towards the end, but I'm finding an extra intensity.''
After playing in four World Cups, Wilkinson has reconciled the fact he will be a spectator when England host the 2015 tournament. European qualification begins in Budapest on Saturday when Hungary host Bulgaria.
But Wilkinson retains strong connections with the tournament he won with England in 2003 and visited the grave of William Webb Ellis, who is buried in the picturesque French town of Menton, on Wednesday.
"It has been an amazing journey to have been part of the World Cup," Wilkinson said.
"It might be odd to be a spectator but it is time to say 'let someone else do it', let these England guys go in there, attack it and do something special for the country."
In terms of his playing future at Toulon, Wilkinson is determined not to outstay his welcome having experienced that feeling with England.
"It scares me more than anything that what I did in the past might count more than what I am doing on the field,'' said Wilkinson, who has dipped his toe into coaching.
"I just can't bear to see an opportunity go by where I might be able to help.
"If one of the young lads is getting frustrated with his kicking, I know exactly what that feels like. I know I can go and help that.
"After I finish playing rugby I'd love that to be part of my life."