Wilkinson rewarded with a rest
February 13, 2007
Newcastle have agreed to rest Jonny Wilkinson from Guinness Premiership action this weekend to give him the best preparation for England's crunch RBS 6 Nations trip to Ireland.
The decision follows a request from the Rugby Football Union for the Premiership clubs to rest the England starting XV named today by head coach Brian Ashton.
The Falcons' director of rugby John Fletcher insisted his decision was taken purely on the grounds of what was considered best for Wilkinson.
But Premier Rugby executive Phil Winstanley tonight urged the other top-flight clubs not give in to the RFU's "emotional blackmail".
Ashton named his team for the Ireland game early - an unprecedented 11 days before the match - in the hope it would help the RFU persuade clubs not to field the selected England players.
The Premiership clubs are under no obligation to rest their contracted internationals, but it is believed the vast majority of England's starting XV will either be left out or at least played off the bench.
All decisions will be made by the clubs on a case-by-case basis. Wilkinson, for example, has played only two full matches since returning from a lacerated kidney - both of them Six Nations Tests.
Fletcher said: "We believe this is a decision in the best interests of the club and the player.
"Jonny has started two tough international matches, taken a lot of bumps and bruises - and we have reached a joint decision."
Newcastle confirmed their two England replacements, Toby Flood and Mat Tait, will both be involved against Bristol.
"Each player has been taken case by case, based on what is best - and for Toby and Mathew we believe playing for their club down at Bristol is the appropriate course of action to take," added Fletcher.
The RFU's director of elite rugby Rob Andrew is particularly concerned about the three Sunday fixtures - Newcastle v Bristol, Saracens v Gloucester and Wasps v Sale - which might have involved nine of England's starting XV just six days before the Croke Park clash.
Wasps are likely to rest England captain Phil Vickery, and Leicester will start with the likes of Martin Corry and George Chuter on the bench.
But Sale, desperately short on numbers, seem set to include Jason Robinson and Magnus Lund.
Winstanley insists the clubs must not feel pressurised by the RFU's decision to bring their team announcement so far forward.
He said: "It amounts to emotional blackmail that the team has been named so far in advance.
"I am sure the directors of rugby will make decisions based on the needs of the players. The evidence shows we do manage our players well."
The England side named by Ashton on Tuesday included recalls for Wasps flanker Joe Worsley and Gloucester full-back Olly Morgan.
Worsley returns to the team in place of Nick Easter, after recovering from the neck injury which kept him out of last weekend's victory over Italy.
Morgan is set to win his second Test cap after being named at full-back in place of his Gloucester team-mate Iain Balshaw, who is not expected to recover from a groin injury in time.
The two changes mean Ashton has reverted back to the same starting XV he named for England's comprehensive 42-20 opening-round victory over Scotland.
England: O Morgan (Gloucester); J Lewsey (Wasps), M Tindall (Gloucester), A Farrell (Saracens), J Robinson (Sale Sharks); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), H Ellis (Leicester Tigers); P Freshwater (Perpignan), G Chuter (Leicester), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), D Grewcock (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), M Lund (Sale Sharks), M Corry (Leicester).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath), J White (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Wasps), T Rees (Wasps), S Perry (Bristol), T Flood (Newcastle), M Tait (Newcastle).
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