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Black: Wilkinson has more to give

Jonny Wilkinson can coach England to 'another great era', according to mentor Steve Black.

England's World Cup winner has confirmed he will retire at the end of the season, after 17 years of top-flight action.

The 34-year-old fly-half will close his stellar career by appearing in the Heineken Cup and French Top 14 finals in consecutive weekends for Toulon.

Black was fitness coach at Newcastle Falcons when Wilkinson made his senior debut in 1997, and will be on hand in Paris for the 91-cap playmaker's final turn, the French league play-off against Castres.

Ex-Newcastle United coach Black has hailed Wilkinson for making a 'brave' decision to retire while still at rugby's pinnacle.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him make a significant contribution to the world of sport in another guise," Black told Press Association Sport.

"I think just about anything in the game is within his capabilities.

"I'm sure he could end up coaching England, I'm absolutely sure of it.

"Timing is everything though, so whether that timing and opportunity will be right will be the question.

"If those two things align, he won't let anybody down.

"I think he could be central to another great era for rugby in England in the future."

Wilkinson has been tipped to become kicking coach at Toulon next term, with colourful owner Mourad Boudjellal loathed to lose his star attraction.

Former bouncer Black said Wilkinson has been coaching as part of his playing career for years, and should view that step as a natural progression.

"He's a natural coach and he's been coaching at every club he's represented for the best part of 20 years, with youngsters and what have you," he said.

"I don't think that ability will be lost from the game.

"He would never put himself into something to which he couldn't contribute.

"He won't do something he can't make a first-class job of.

"But with his understanding and knowledge of rugby, his ability to motivate and influence people around him, he's capable of coaching at the highest level."

Black's close relationship with Wilkinson has seen the mind guru motivational speaker maintain constant contact with the metronomic goal-kicker, even since he joined Toulon in 2009.

Wilkinson's horror-show injury catalogue that blighted his latter years at Newcastle and robbed him of a host more England caps has subsided since the move, with the fly-half flourishing in the Top 14.

Reviewing the talisman 2003 World Cup winner's overall impact on the game, Black admitted relief that Wilkinson was able to shrug off that injury torment and prolong his fruitful career.

"An important point that should be made is that if he'd played on next season he would still have produced an extremely high level of performance," said Black.

"He's chosen to go out at the top, and that's very brave.

"He loves the game and he's given everything to it, but he's going out at the top, when his contribution is still superb and his standards haven't fallen one bit.

"He can still do things that make people sit up and go 'wow', and that's pretty special.

"We might not see another career like this for a long, long time.

"I would suggest he's as close to fulfilling his potential as anyone ever has been really.

"The last two games of his career will be the European Cup and the French league final in Paris: that's a fantastic double to go out on, whatever happens.

"The discipline to be able to finish a career at that level is sensational.

"The first time I said he would peak in his mid-30s, he was 21.

"People were saying he was peaking even back then, but I always said he would get to his best in his mid-30s.

"After all these years I'm pretty proud it's turned out like this."

Former All Blacks prop Carl Hayman has played with Wilkinson at both Newcastle and now Toulon, and admitted his committed team-mate has been the find of his generation.

"Jonny Wilkinson's contribution to the game has been enormous," said Hayman.

"Players like that don't come around very often.

"It was hard to see him playing on this late in his career with the injury problems he did have.

"Other people might have stopped after the horrible run of injuries he had but it's a testament to his character that he played on, he's a mentally tough guy.

"He managed to hang in there, sort his body out and comeback and have four years at Toulon which has been great."


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