JONNY WILKINSON has described his return to the England rugby union starting XV after more than three years away as like reaching "the end of a long journey".
The 27-year-old Newcastle fly half has not started a match for his country since his match-winning appearance in the 2003 World Cup final in Australia.
But he was named yesterday in head coach Brian Ashton's first Test line-up for the RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
The call-up comes after just 40 minutes of action following 12 weeks out with a kidney injury, the latest in a long line of problems suffered by Wilkinson.
But the player is now just "desperate" to get started again.
He wrote in his column for The Times: "I guess that I am at the end of a long journey.
"It's obviously not one I ever wanted to go down, getting through it was all about desire.
"But I now feel that it's the real journey that I'm at the start of, the one I've been longing for for so long."
Wilkinson is not allowing himself to celebrate his return to the fold, which comes alongside a recall for fellow World Cup winner Jason Robinson and a debut for rugby league convert Andy Farrell.
"I guess I just don't do enjoyment, not even today," he added.
"But I don't want to sound downbeat about being selected to play for England. The opposite could not be more the case."
RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew says Wilkinson has yet to reach his peak.
"Jonny is only 27, he hasn't got to the peak of his powers," said Andrew, previously his boss at Newcastle.
"The work he has been doing over the last few years has made him sharper and he is more experienced as a person."
England hooker Steve Thompson has been ruled out of the entire tournament because of a neck injury.
The 28-year-old will rest for eight weeks, keeping him out of Northampton's struggle to move away from the bottom of the English Premiership table.
Wales physio Mark Davies says the next few days are crucial if wings Shane Williams and Mark Jones are to win their fitness race to face Ireland in Cardiff on Sunday.
The duo have risen from non-runners a week ago to possible starters.
"We'll make a full assessment, probably tomorrow," said Davies.
"Both are up and running but are unable to take a full part in team activities, at some point they will have to face full contact."
Ospreys' Williams is recovering from a hip injury, while Scarlets' Jones has damaged ankle ligaments.