Jonny Wilkinson retires from England


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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson - the fly-half superstar and perfectionist who kicked England to World Cup glory - tonight quit Test rugby with the revelation: "I will never truly be satisfied."

Wilkinson has called time on an international career that harvested 91 England caps, six British and Irish Lions Test appearances and a total of 1,246 points.

The 32-year-old also played in four World Cups, including the 2003 campaign Down Under when his drop goal 17 seconds from the end of extra time broke Australian hearts in Sydney and meant England had conquered planet rugby.

Outside of his prodigious points-scoring ability, Wilkinson's obsessive eye for detail and a relentless work ethic assumed almost legendary status within the sport.

And the former Newcastle number 10, who will continue playing for wealthy French club Toulon, also repeatedly showed a never-say die attitude during his darkest days.

At one stage of his career post-2003 World Cup, Wilkinson played barely 15 hours' competitive rugby in 18 months as a succession of injuries - including shoulder trouble, knee ligament damage, a lacerated kidney and a hernia - laid him low.

But he kept bouncing back, underlining his status as arguably the most-celebrated England player in rugby history through numerous match-winning displays.

Current England head coach Stuart Lancaster and former captain Lewis Moody led the tributes to Wilkinson, with Lancaster describing him as an inspiration and Moody saying he had been humbled to play alongside him.

Wilkinson made a lengthy retirement announcement on his official website, and it comes less than a month before Lancaster announces England's elite player squad for 2012.

"I would like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from international rugby," Wilkinson said.

"To do so fills me with great sadness, but I know that I have been blessed in so many ways to have experienced what I have with the England rugby team.

"To say I have played through four World Cups, two Lions tours, 91 international games and a ridiculous number of injuries and other setbacks gives me an incredibly special feeling of fulfilment.

"But by now I know myself well enough to know that I will never truly be satisfied!

"I never ever believed that I would be able to give up on this dream which has driven me to live, breathe, love and embrace the game of rugby from the earliest days that I can remember.

"I certainly have no intention of letting this decision change the way that I approach my training and preparation for games. In fact, early indication shows me that I'm actually getting more intense about it.

"Playing the game, representing the team, giving my all and never letting go has meant everything to me. I do, have done and always will believe that I am very capable of performing and thriving at any level of the sport.

"The time has come, however, for me to realise that I have gone as far as I can go with this England team and that the time is right for others to enjoy the same honour and pride that I have felt over the past 15 seasons and beyond."

Wilkinson continued: "I have far too many people to thank for what I have been able to achieve, but as always, it starts with my mum and dad, my brother Mark, my girlfriend Shelley, Steve Black, Tim Buttimore and Dave Alred as well as the rest of my family and friends.

"I can never give enough credit to all my team-mates from over the years, and my physios, surgeons, doctors and coaches, too, who have unconditionally helped me through all kinds of thick and thin.

"Finally, I would like to show my enormous appreciation and gratitude to all the true followers of the game who have given me way, way more time and support than it has ever been reasonable for one person to ask for. You will never truly understand the effect you have all had on me and my career.

"It goes without saying that I would like to wish Stuart Lancaster, his coaches and the England squad every bit of success available to them.

"I would also very much like to extend those wishes to Martin Johnson, Brian Smith, Mike Ford, John Wells, Graham Rowntree and the rest of the England 2011 World Cup management team, who have been fantastic, and deserve people to know that.

"For me now, I will continue to focus ever harder on my goal of being the very best I can be with Toulon Rugby Club, and continue to embrace and enjoy wherever that path takes me."

Lancaster, who was appointed last week as England's interim head coach for the RBS 6 Nations Championship that starts in February, is likely to tap into Wilkinson's vast rugby knowledge.

"He will continue to do great things with Toulon, and I would like to go and see him in France to learn from his vast knowledge and experience of 13 years at the very top of the international game," Lancaster said.

"Jonny has had a fantastic international career which has spanned four World Cups and 91 caps, and he ranks as one of England's greatest ever players.

"He will, of course, be remembered for that drop goal. But he is more than that, a model sportsman - down to earth and hard-working - who has never stopped trying to be the best that he can.

"Everyone who has played with, coached and watched Jonny play should feel privileged to have had an involvement with him.

"Not only has he been a world-class player, but he has inspired thousands to play and watch the game of rugby."

And Moody, who stepped down from Test rugby in October, added on Sky Sports News: "I am humbled to have played alongside him.

"His contribution over the years - his work ethic, professionalism and commitment - has been immense. He put everything into what he did. It was incredible to watch him train and perform." PA

Jonny Wilkinson - the vital statistics

England caps: 91
British and Irish Lions caps: 6
World Cup finals: 2
World Cup wins: 1
Test victories: 67
Total Test points: 1,246
Test tries: 7
Test conversions: 169
Test penalties: 255
Test drop goals: 36
Six Nations titles: 4 (2000, 2001, 2003, 2011)
Grand Slams: 1 (2003)