Wilkinson sets the bar high
August 12, 2009
Jonny Wilkinson strikes a familiar pose during one of Toulon's pre-season clashes © Getty Images
In the second part of our interview with Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson, the fly-half offers his views on the new Top 14 season and his return to the England Elite Player Squad. Click here for Part One.
Although Wilkinson is no longer the fresh-faced teenager who made his international debut in 1998, he retains enough of a youthful appearance to belie the years on his rugby clock. And despite his protestations to the contrary he will be a pivotal figure in Toulon's arsenal this season.
"I just know that when I wake up in the morning I'm going to try and bring what I've got to the table," he added. "It's very difficult to see it any other way. But I guess I have been playing quite a while now and I've got some stuff locked away that will hopefully come in handy. But I still feel young and that I've got a lot ahead of me. I guess it's difficult to see myself as an experienced player but I've had some experiences that's for sure."
For the first time since his step up from the junior ranks at Newcastle, Wilkinson found himself as a new boy at school but there is no time to waste in getting to know his new team mates - a fact helped by Wilkinson's fluency in the language.
"Once you come to the big games you are forced to understand each other," said Wilkinson. "It's not a case of we'll do it at our own speed as the pressure comes on - it is a case of sink or swim and for me that is often the best way.
"You can't be fully prepared for everything. You can be prepared as well as you can be, but you'll never cover every base so when you get out there you know there will be things you need to react to and you have to do that together."
Wilkinson has set his sights high for the new season and makes no excuses for targeting the league title - despite the fact that Toulon narrowly missed relegation last season.
"It's quite difficult to say anything but win every game and see where that puts us at the end of the season," he said when asked of his immediate ambition. "If we get it right it will put us at the top and if we get it pretty right then I think it will put us in with a chance. I can't see any other answer. You can be quite pragmatic saying we want to be this, but for me every game is the be all and end all and you have to be like that until the end of the season."
Those words will be welcomed by his boss Saint-Andre who is hoping to have a fit and firing Wilkinson at his disposal all season.
"It's good for our young players to be able to train near Jonny Wilkinson to see how professional he is and all the extra work he does," insists the former French international.
"To be fair I have been very impressed. He has been out for seven or eight months but in the fitness tests he looks sharp and with a bit of game time the better he will become. He is a fantastic professional and it is a new challenge for him and I think for his mind this new start, a new lifestyle will be good for him and England. But I think he needs nine or 10 games in a row with us because he is a bit rusty."
Wilkinson will team up with his England team mates this week in a break from his preparations for the new season and in the process will get reacquainted with Twickenham - a ground he has not graced since appearing as a replacement in England's 2008 Six Nations victory over Ireland.
"It's been a while," he joked. "I'm starting to forget what it looks like! I'm excited about being back in the England squad and hoping I can add there too and contribute but it is very much day by day.
"I'm a student of the game, always have been and have never been more so than I am now. I've got lots to catch up on, I've got lots to learn but I feel that I am ready and in the right place to do that."
Click here for Part One of our interview with Jonny Wilkinson.
Follow this season's action LIVE on ESPN and ESPN Scrum including exclusive coverage of Toulon v Stade Francais on Friday night
In the blink of an eye, a winger can go from a hero to villain. Hugh Godwin talks to Zac Guildford and David Strettle about life on the flank
Munster, No.8s, the imploding Australians, wonderful Glasgow and Lancaster's dilemma - it is Monday Maul time
As Ewen McKenzie exits stage left, the ARU remains under huge pressure, with CEO Bill Pulver feeling the brunt of Australian rugby's displeasure, Greg Growden writes
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the remarkable events in Brisbane and the first round of the European Rugby Champions Cup