Wilkinson set for crunch clash with rival Cipriani

Last updated at 13:25 29 February 2008

Jonny Wilkinson will tonight go head-to-head for the first time in the Guinness Premiership with the man who wants to take his England shirt.

Wilkinson and Danny Cipriani

are due to line up against each

other when Newcastle tackle London

Wasps at Kingston Park.

Wilkinson and Cipriani

And the confrontation will reignite the

argument about how soon England

head coach Brian Ashton should hand

the crown to the 20-year-old pretender.

The contest has captured the imagination

at Newcastle, where all 10,200

tickets were snapped up yesterday.

Wilkinson's critics are in temporary

retreat after the World Cup winner's

goalkicking and game management

steered England to the 24-13 win in

Paris that got their Six Nations campaign

back on the rails.

Never mind the naive tactical

approach of Marc Lievremont's French

side, it made Jonny virtually undroppable

for the Scotland contest on

8 March.

He will start it 26 points short

of Gareth Jenkins's world record international

points tally of 1,049.

But Newcastle will need no reminding

of Cipriani's dazzling attacking talents

after he scored two tries in a

20-point haul when they were thumped

35-12 at Adams Park in November while

Wilkinson was sidelined with an ankle


The pair opposed each other

briefly in a low-key EDF Energy Cup

game in December, Cipriani outpointing

his rival 14-6 in the goalkicking

stakes in a 24-6 win.

Wilkinson, however, insists he is

unmoved by the inevitable attention

surrounding their contest and his international

form. He said: “In years gone

by I'd have been concerned about all

this, confused and worried about what

everyone was thinking about me.

“If it's good enough and I get selected

again, that's great; if it's not, then I'll

honestly accept it and wish Danny or

whoever else the very best.”

Cipriani, marked out as the new

Jonny since starring for England's

junior sides while a schoolboy in Croydon,

is more relaxed after two fleeting

international appearances.

“It does

take a while to feel a part of things with

England,” he said. “But luckily I've

had bits here and there since I was 18

and I feel very comfortable.”

Both teams are at full strength as

Wasps recall Cipriani, Paul Sackey,

Simon Shaw, Eoin Reddan and Phil

Vickery from Six Nations duty while

Newcastle are boosted by the return of

Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Jamie Noon

and Mathew Tait.

And while the Jonny-Danny show

may capture top billing, there is an

intriguing contest on the undercard.

Josh Lewsey was ditched by England

before the start of the Six Nations but

he opposes Tait at full-back and both

have the chance to force Ashton's hand.

Iain Balshaw has looked increasingly

insecure and Ashton can choose

between Lewsey's defensive experience

and the all-round flair of Tait,

arguably England's best player in last

year's World Cup Final.

“Mat Tait can

play anywhere from 13 outwards and I

don't get too emotional about what

number he wears on his back,” said

Newcastle coach John Fletcher.

“At full-back there are one or two

positional things and skills that are

unique, but he is working on those.

You want is to have your best players on

the pitch.”

Cipriani is a candidate there, too,

with Lawrence Dallaglio his most articulate


He said: “What Danny

needs is an introduction to international

rugby. Maybe that could be better

served done at 15, where you get a

chance to read the game.”

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