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A new day dawns for Wilkinson

Rob Andrew waxes lyrical ahead of the 2006/07 season

Newcastle Falcons boss Rob Andrew has given England fans the lift they have been craving, backing a new and improved Jonny Wilkinson to be in a position to challenge for an England spot as early as November.

Well Wilko: A new start for unlucky England star
Well Wilko: A new start for unlucky England star

The injury-jinxed fly-half has not pulled on a lillywhite jersey since the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Since then, Wilkinson has spent three miserable years with ice strapped to various body parts, including his neck, bicep and groin.

But he showed glimpses of his old form towards the end of Newcastle's 2005/06 campaign and looks set for a prolonged period on the pitch.

Andrew's admiration for Wilkinson is well-documented - he believes the erstwhile England star "hardly needs to train" - but he admits that the next few months will be crucial to the 27-year-old's future.

"He needs a fantastic pre-season and he needs a great two months at the start of next season to lead into the Autumn internationals," Andrew told Rugby Times.

"The guy's just a class-act and anybody who can produce the sort of stuff he showed at the end of the season, having not played for two years - well, I can't think of another player who could do that."

The Falcons are gaining a reputation for playing wide, attacking rugby and Andrew believes that the style will suit Wilkinson like a Hackett jacket.

"I think Jonny has the ambition to play the next part of his career in a liberated way - to enjoy his rugby a bit more," he said.

"It's a very easy thing to say and an almost impossible thing to do at the level he's operating at, but we're trying hard for him, and with him, to allow that to happen.

"Part of that, clearly, will be how we play. He's a world-class player and if we can get Jamie Noon and Mathew Tait on the end of things he does, we're going to be a handful.

"This is about the next five years for Jonny now and we're trying to get him to do a lot less of everything.

"He hardly needs to train, in my opinion. He needs to feel good in the training he does, tick over, feel good in the gym, kick a few balls, work with the team and then go home."

Wilkinson has been spared the duty of club captaincy for the new season - that honour goes to former Australia fullback Matt Burke - and Andrew believes that the switch will allow the Englishman to concentrate on his game and his metamorphosis for patient to player.

"You couldn't find a better role-model for him than Matt Burke in terms of dealing with the pressures of top-class rugby and still operating with a smile on your face," said the coach.

"Burkey's been very good for Jonny and I think he'll continue to be over the next couple of years."

The Falcons report back for pre-season training on July 10.

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