Rugby: Wallabies expect Wilkinson to start

England first-five Jonny Wilkinson came off the bench in last week’s loss to the Wallabies in Perth. Photo / Getty Images
England first-five Jonny Wilkinson came off the bench in last week’s loss to the Wallabies in Perth. Photo / Getty Images

SYDNEY - Wallaby leaders expect their World Cup nemesis Jonny Wilkinson to start for England in the second rugby test at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.

Wilkinson, who broke Australian hearts with his deadly kicking in both the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, played only a cameo role off the bench in England's 27-17 loss to the Wallabies in Perth last Saturday.

The veteran five-eighth has been dogged by numerous injury problems over recent years, but has still accumulated 85 test caps.

Last weekend's starting pivot Toby Flood failed to ignite England's backline, leading to speculation Wilkinson would earn a recall to the run-on side next Saturday.

While England coach Martin Johnson dismissed as "quite simplistic" a journalist's suggestion on Monday that he would turn to Wilkinson on Saturday, he didn't deny the possibility.

Both Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and captain Rocky Elsom fully expected Wilkinson to be part of England's first XV.

"I'll be surprised if he doesn't start the next test," Deans told reporters on Monday.

Asked why he felt that way Deans said "because I can't see them going away significantly from their approach and they will see Jonny suiting them better to that end".

Blindside flanker Elsom said he thought Wilkinson would probably start.

"Obviously the (first) game didn't go the way they would have liked, so they will be looking to make changes and he (Wilkinson) might be one that slides in," Elsom said.

Prior to last weekend Wilkinson had played on the winning side against Australia on seven out of 12 occasions.

Deans reported no lingering injury worries following on from the test and said inside back Matt Giteau was making good progress from a hip problem which forced his late withdrawal from the Perth clash.

England received a boost on Monday, when winger Mark Cueto had a dangerous tackle charge against him dismissed by a judicial hearing in Sydney.

Cueto was cited for a first-half incident involving Wallabies centre Berrick Barnes, but New Zealand judicial officer Peter Hobbs found Cueto not guilty after reviewing the evidence.

Happy with that piece of news, Johnson was looking for his players to lift in their final two matches of the tour.

The fringe members of the squad will play a second match against the Australian Barbarians tonight in Gosford, following a 28-28 draw in Perth last Tuesday.

Deans suggested halfback Will Genia would get some playing time after being left on the bench for the for the first test, but wouldn't say whether the classy Queenslander would displace Luke Burgess from the starting line-up after the Waratahs' scrum feeder excelled in Perth.

"I'll be surprised if he (Genia) didn't (get some playing time on Saturday), he'd be a bit grumpy if he didn't get any time," Deans said.

He wouldn't guarantee hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau would be rushed back into the test side after returning from injury for the Barbarians tonight, but hinted that might be the case.

- AAP

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