Saturday 19 October 2019

Hastings: Wilkinson will have Lions role to play

Matt McGeehan

Former British and Irish Lions captain Gavin Hastings expects to see Jonny Wilkinson in the fabled red jersey on this summer's tour to Australia.

World Cup-winning former England fly-half Wilkinson has been in imperious form with European champions Toulon this season, but declined an initial approach from Lions head coach Warren Gatland citing club commitments and his weary body.

Yet Wilkinson remains on standby should he be required and with just two number 10s in the 37-man squad - Ireland's Jonathan Sexton and England's Owen Farrell - Hastings anticipates the 33-year-old former Newcastle fly-half will be a late arrival in Australia in time for the first Test in Brisbane on June 22.

"I think it's likely to happen," Hastings said at the re-launch of Unibet in the UK where its 'Unibet Summer of Sport' ad campaign featuring Sir Ian Botham, Hastings and Goran Ivanisevic was unveiled.

"If Sexton and Farrell can do well and they play well and they're able to keep fit, perhaps the prospect of Jonny coming out will recede.

"The shorter the time that Jonny has in Australia, the better, I think, the chances are for the Lions.

"The longer he spends there, I'm not convinced his body will want to be training every single day.

"The way he is, so intense and thorough in his preparation, he doesn't need to play in any provincial matches.

"What matters is the Lions winning two out of three Tests. If ever there was an occasion made for Jonny, it would be coming out the week before the first Test and having a role to play."

European player of the year Wilkinson's memorable World Cup-winning drop goal came in Sydney almost 10 years ago and Hastings also knows what it is like to savour success Down Under.

The 1993 Lions skipper, who was key in the 1989 series win in Australia, rebuffed those who believe the Lions is an outdated concept, particularly as winning a Test series has proved elusive for 16 years, since South Africa in 1997.

"It would be a massive thing to give up," Hastings said.

"If the players recognise the significance of being a Lion, then in many respects they will drive the agenda and make sure the Lions continue.

"As long as the Lions are very, very competitive and the Test series goes down to the wire, I think we will see the Lions continuing for the foreseeable future."

:: Gavin Hastings is an official Unibet ambassador. Visit Unibet's new website at www.unibet.co.uk for the latest offers and free bets on this summer's biggest sporting events.

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