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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 13:36 GMT
Guscott backs Wilkinson to shine
By Pranav Soneji

Jonny Wilkinson and Danny Cipriani
Cipriani (right) has stated his ambitions to succeed Wilkinson
Jeremy Guscott says Jonny Wilkinson is still England's best fly-half, despite the emergence of Danny Cipriani.

The 20-year-old Wasps star has set his sights on the England number 10 jersey, but Guscott believes the competition will only serve to motivate Wilkinson.

"He will relish the challenge with a serious contender in Cipriani, but he isn't the only one," said Guscott.

"There are also Toby Flood and Charlie Hodgson, but none have proved capable of doing the job better than Jonny."

Cipriani has earned his place in England coach Brian Ashton's 32-man squad thanks to his sensational performances for Wasps this season.

We have not seen enough of Cipriani in those situations to see if he is of international quality at the highest level - yet

Jeremy Guscott

His former coach Warren Gatland - now in charge of Wales - recently predicted the fly-half could even become a bigger superstar than Wilkinson.

But former England centre Guscott warned Cipriani's weaknesses could be exposed if he was thrown into the international game prematurely.

"Even though his form has been brilliant, Cipriani would find the pressure incredibly different to Wasps," Guscott told BBC Sport.

"He has shown some fallibility at Wasps - against Clermont Auvergne he was brilliant in the first half, but mediocre in the second when he was required to put his team into position.

"We have not seen enough of Cipriani in those situations to see if he is of international quality at the highest level - yet."

606: DEBATE

Guscott believes Cipriani can still have a role for England as an impact replacement during the Six Nations, but the experience, temperament and reliability of Wilkinson is impossible to overlook.

"We have seen how Jonny deals with pressure at the highest level," he said. "There are very few players who have his ability to deal with it.

"Just look at when he dropped the World Cup-winning goal, along with the many penalties that have been slotted under huge amounts of pressure.

"He is unfazed by it, he is very comfortable in his own position. He has always said he never takes the England number 10 jersey for granted, let alone for Newcastle."

Jonny Wilkinson in action for Newcastle Falcons
Wilkinson joined the Falcons in 1997 as a teenager

Wilkinson recently signed a new extension to his Falcons contract which will keep him in the North East for a further two years.

The 28-year-old is currently in his 11th season at Kingston Park and is nine points short of kicking his 2,000th point for the club.

Despite Newcastle's lack of regular top-class European rugby, Guscott believes Wilkinson is convinced the club are committed to strengthening their squad.

"He is comfortable and he must believe that success is going to come there way in the next couple of years," said Guscott.

"Newcastle have made a statement of intent by buying (former All Black prop) Carl Hayman.

"I have no doubt over the coming 12 months they are going to increase their strength in the forwards because that is their weakness."



SEE ALSO
Wilkinson extends Newcastle stay
21 Jan 08 |  Newcastle
Cipriani wants Wilkinson's place
22 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
England new boys - Danny Cipriani
09 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Vainikolo named in England squad
09 Jan 08 |  English
Cipriani ready for toughest test
14 Sep 07 |  English


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