Wilkinson tests RFU resolve by agreeing new Toulon deal

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson has signed a new two-year contract that will keep him at Toulon until the summer of 2013, the French Top 14 club have confirmed.

The 31-year-old had been widely expected to extend his stay in the south of France after making a major impact following his move from Newcastle in the summer of 2009. However, the decision puts him at odds with the Rugby Football Union's stance that England will not pick any players plying their trade overseas following the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Wilkinson's decision to agree to a new contract does not necessarily mean that next year's World Cup will signal the end of his international career. While the RFU have highlighted a desire to only select individuals playing at home, they also stated that players who choose to play for French clubs could still be selected for international duty under "exceptional circumstances".

The stance has been designed with success at the 2015 World Cup, which England will host, in mind but Wilkinson will be 36 by then and is unlikely to still be playing at the game's highest level.

However, a man of Wilkinson's experience could be seen as a useful figure to have around the national squad for a year or two after next year's global showpiece in New Zealand, and his new deal may ultimately leave the RFU with an uncomfortable choice between abiding by the new declaration and selecting a player still worthy of his place in the national set-up.

Wilkinson scored 302 points during his first season with Toulon, helping Philippe Saint-André's side to reach the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup, where they lost to Cardiff Blues in Marseilles, as well as the semi-finals of the Top 14.

The 86-cap half-back has been similarly impressive so far this campaign. He was voted the best overseas player in the French league last month while Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal had stated his desire to keep England's 2003 World Cup hero "at any price".

While he has flourished in France, Wilkinson has dropped to second-choice behind Toby Flood in the England pecking order, and has not started a Test for his country since the Six Nations draw with Scotland in March after a shoulder injury kept him out of last month's autumn internationals.