Wilkinson set to defy RFU's edict

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Jonny Wilkinson is prepared to challenge England's hardline stance against selecting overseas-based players by signing a new deal to stay at Toulon.

The Rugby Football Union wrote to Wilkinson and the England squad a fortnight ago announcing their "absolute intention" to only pick players from domestic clubs following the 2011 World Cup.

Wilkinson's contract expires in the summer but Toulon coach Philippe Saint-André confirmed his star fly-half is close to agreeing a new deal. That would either force England to back down and pick Wilkinson under their "exceptional circumstances" clause, or signal the end of his glittering international career.

Wilkinson said: "I can understand where they are coming from and what they're saying. For me, in my situation at the moment, my main aim is to keep getting better and I made a move [to Toulon] a year and a half ago to try to continue to do that. I want to carry on doing that now. I am happy where I am, it fits the bill for me. I am enjoying the experience and learning a hell of a lot. I owe a lot to these guys.

"I want to keep getting better day by day. That has always been the overall goal. I will keep doing that and see where it leads me."

Wilkinson, who helped Toulon to a 19-13 Heineken Cup victory over London Irish on Sunday, is two games into a return from the shoulder injury that forced him to miss England's four November internationals.

Toulon captain Joe van Niekerk afterwards described Wilkinson as a "genius" and Irish coach Toby Booth suggested he is getting better with age. Wilkinson is no longer England's first-choice fly-half but, fitness permitting, he will return to the squad for the Six Nations. In an ideal world, Wilkinson would like to continue playing for both Toulon and England after the 2011 World Cup.

The RFU's undefined "exceptional circumstances" clause could allow for that, but Wilkinson does not want to be singled out. James Haskell is out of contract with Stade Français in the summer. "It's something I don't want to get involved in. I'm just one player in this sort of situation and there are others in the same situation," Wilkinson added.

Saint-André threw in the possibility that Wilkinson could spend two years with Toulon and then return to England in time to play in the 2015 World Cup on home soil, when he will be 36. "Jonny is very happy with us. I think he will sign for one more year plus a one-year option. It is nearly done," Saint-André said.

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