Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Packed Crowd to Greet Cup Hero

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Packed Crowd to Greet Cup Hero

Article excerpt

Byline: By Alan Hedley

The Wilkinson factor looks like guaranteeing the Falcons another big crowd at the weekend.

There were 10,000 packed into Kingston Park for the World Cup hero's return to Tyneside when Newcastle played Wasps . . . and he wasn't even playing!

On Sunday, he will be when Newcastle take on Vrac Valladolid in the second leg of their first round Parker Pen Challenge Cup-tie.

The fact Wilkinson will play has seen nearly 7,000 tickets snapped up and they will be on sale right up to kick-off at 1pm.

The Falcons are bracing themselves for another outbreak of Jonny mania even if the England hero is likely to play just half a game before making another dash to London - the third this week - for Sunday night's BBC Sports Personality of the Year show.

With a 71-10 advantage from the first leg, Newcastle would normally have been lucky to sell 2,000 tickets for Sunday.

But Wilkinson's return has sparked the rush for tickets and England's World Cup hero will line up alongside brother Mark, who scored two tries in the demolition of Vrac in the first leg.

Wilkinson, meanwhile, dismissed Monday night's A1 crash, when he was a passenger in a hire car, as a "memorable finish to an awesome day for all the wrong reasons." After the accident Wilkinson was picked up by his father Phil and taken home, eventually arriving at 3am Tuesday. But he still joined his Newcastle teammates for a 10.30 training session and was back again in the afternoon for another run-out.

Wilkinson's insistence on returning for training caused him to break off from the Monday victory parade celebrations early.

The hire car picked him up from Downing Street following Monday's reception hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Wilkinson said: "I had to get back to Newcastle to train. I was sorry to miss the dinner - and if I hadn't done I suppose I wouldn't have been in that crash. I've packed a few things into the last couple of days and I'm pretty knackered, but I'm playing on Sunday. …

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