It may seem boorish and even cruel, but some New Zealand fans are running sweepstakes on how many matches Jonny Wilkinson will last on the forthcoming Lions tour before he is forced to return home incapacitated. There is method in their callousness. For Wilkinson's fragile frame is about to be submitted to the most intense battering of his glittering career and it is bewildering so few commentators have questioned the wisdom of him touring. The bone-jarring tackle is the stock in trade of New Zealand professional players, just as Brazilian footballers delight in ball-juggling skills. Up and down the country, the elite among them are lining up Wilko in their mind's eye. The Kiwis, rightly, take great pride in the depth of talent within their domestic game. Easy matches don't exist when visiting New Zealand, nor a shortage of opponents displaying 100 per cent commitment. As Sir Clive Woodward observed after arriving in Auckland, the 2001 Lions party to Australia required seven replacements and a similar casualty rate can be expected this time. Having stumbled from injury to injury over the past 18 months, the lauded English back might be subjecting himself to the rugby equivalent of Russian roulette. While Wilkinson is not in the frame for the opener against Bay of Plenty in Rotorua, he may be in action on Wednesday, when the tourists are in New Plymouth to meet Taranaki. The Naki have, figuratively speaking, punched above their weight for several seasons. A side without any real stars, they do boast two All Blacks triallists in Chris Masoe and Andrew Hore. Masoe also honed his tackling technique in international sevens, while Hore is a classically rugged hooker. New Zealand Maori present the next hurdle. Neil Brew, Leon McDonald and Luke McAllister, in particular, continue the tradition of a combination renowned for its robust defending. McAllister is following in the footsteps of his father, Charlie, once a feared figure in British rugby league. The Lions then bump into Jerry Collins. Collins's hit on Colin Charvis of Wales in 2003 is still recalled with awe throughout the rugby world. His Wellington teammates Ma'a Nonu, Rodney So'oialo and All Black captain Tana Umaga are equally likely to send Wilkinson on a long-haul trip back to Blighty. If it's Saturday June 18, it must be Dunedin and further Samoan muscle in the shape of Seilala Mapusua. The Highlanders' inside centre, Mapusua was the Super 12's most devastating tackler this year and gained All Blacks trial selection as a result. Moreover, the Otago fixture gives Neil Brew another bite of the cherry. The good folk of Invercargill will be seeking retribution for former Lion Brian Moore recently comparing their fair city to Chernobyl. It could possibly come through Southland half back Jimmy Cowan, who served a one week suspension for high tackling Mat Rogers during the All Blacks v Barbarians encounter seven months ago. Such indiscretions are rare in contemporary New Zealand rugby, though. But Wilkinson will not feature in that midweek clash if by then he is established as the tourists' top flyhalf for the first test a mere four days away. Should he don the number 10 jersey at Jade Stadium on June 25, his fitness, form and durability having been confirmed, Kiwi supporters will have to concede Wilkinson is capable of again becoming global rugby's greatest influence.