Boks tests worthwhile

Newcastle Falcons coach John Fletcher insists that England's ill-fated tour to South Africa was never going to be a waste of time.

Newcastle Falcons coach John Fletcher insists that England's ill-fated tour to South Africa was never going to be a waste of time.

Fletcher believes plenty of the players selected to face the Springboks simply needed international rugby, any which way.

The group he identified certainly included Jonny Wilkinson, whose run of injuries blighted yet another season.

Never managing more than four games on the trot as the niggles and the serious problems took their toll in equal measure, Wilkinson was in desperate need to prove he could last a full match against one of the world's form teams.

Fletcher claimed it would have been a big boost for him to come through the two-test tour.

He said: "Brian Ashton was not in the most enviable position thanks to European and tour scheduling.

"At least that gave him an opportunity to see fringe players and how they would react under the most intense pressure.

"You would always pick a fit Jonny Wilkinson.

"I have said before I would be crazy, just crazy, not to pick him when he was fit.

"So I would not really view that any differently for Brian.

"When you have someone as experienced and talented as Jonny, if he is fit then you just have to play him.

"There were people suggesting he had not had enough rugby to be in a position to tour.

"However, we saw it in the Six Nations that he was back to something nearing his best in next to no time.

"That is how it always is for Jonny, because of the work he does whenever he is injured - the conditioning and training.

"There are not many players who can make the kind of immediate comebacks Jonny does, and that is testament to him."

Fletcher said the best thing which could have happened was for Wilkinson to play the two games and come through unscathed.

That would give him huge confidence leading up to the August World Cup warm-up games.

He added: "Jonny is always desperate to play, sometimes even when he is not ready.

"So sometimes you have to reign him in a bit, but the England guys are aware of that and would always act accordingly.

"Jonny was fit and ready and the tour should give him a boost moving forward, because now he can look forward to more of the same in the warm-ups."

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