Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Wilkinson set to agree lucrative French switch

Jonny Wilkinson could be set to quit English rugby at the end of this season for a new career in France. England’s World Cup winning outside half is wanted by ambitious French club Racing Metro 92, currently leaders of the French Division 2.

Racing are one of the great traditional clubs of French rugby and have been Champions several times, most recently back in 1991.

They have fallen on hard times of late but under a new millionaire owner, have been plotting their comeback to the top flight.

They see Wilkinson as the ideal player to mastermind their anticipated return to the Top 14 and are said to have made him a spectacular offer.

The deal would be worth approximately €1million a season, on a two-year deal.

Such an offer wouldn’t be far short of the €100,000 a month New Zealand fly half Dan Carter is currently earning at Perpignan during a six-month stint.

It would represent an amazing act of faith in a player who has suffered so many injuries since playing a fulsome part in England’s World Cup triumph of 2003.

Racing Club owner Jacky Lorenzetti has impressively deep pockets. He owns France’s biggest estate agency group ‘Foncia’ and almost two seasons ago lured coach Pierre Berbizier away from his post with the Italian national team to take charge of Racing’s playing revival.

Racing missed out on promotion last year through the play-offs, but are now seven points clear at the top of the French Division Two with a game in hand on their rivals and on course for automatic promotion.

Wilkinson is also believed to have been approached by two Top 14 clubs in France - Bayonne and Perpignan - the latter desperate to recruit a world class No. 10 after Carter returns home in June.

But the Englishman is said to have told contacts that his clear first choice would be Paris as his new rugby home.

If Wilkinson favours the deal, he is likely to have extended talks with Racing officials sometime over the next few days or week.

It is said he may even have had preliminary discussions with the club in Paris sometime in the past week or ten days.

Wilkinson’s departure would confirm suspicions that Newcastle are likely to slide towards English rugby’s back waters.

With Matthew Tait and Toby Flood already allowed to depart, to Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers respectively, their ground sold to the University of Northumbria and another big wage earner, £350,000 a year All Black tight head prop Carl Hayman likely to head home at the end of this season, a year before the end of his long term contract, Newcastle’s philosophy has clearly changed.

By contrast, Racing Club’s stock is on the rise.

They are planning to move to a new stadium elsewhere in the Paris suburbs from their old, re-modelled Colombes stadium home, sight of France’s old international matches and built originally for the 1924 Olympics.

But enhancing their playing squad for next season is seen as the priority and Wilkinson is regarded as potentially the jewel in their crown for next year.

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