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Jonny Wilkinson calls it quits

By Chris Hewett

Jonny Wilkinson, who last night announced his retirement from international rugby, is most famous for his winning drop-kick in the final of the 2003 World Cup, where England beat Australia 20-17 in Australia.

The 32-year-old announced yesterday that he was “filled with great sadness”, but that he could not go any further with the England team, for whom he won 91 caps, the second most, behind Jason Leonard, and scored 1,179 points, nearly three times as many as anyone else.

“To do so [announce my retirement] 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,” he said in a statement yesterday.

“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 looked back on his long and successful international career warmly. “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.”

For all of his many triumphs, Wilkinson struggled with injuries and he paid particular tribute to medical staff in his statement. “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,” he said, before thanking his many supporters.

“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.”

Although he will always be remembered for the 2003 final, Wilkinson also played in the 2007 final, which England lost 15-6 to South Africa in Paris. He was involved in four Six Nations-winning teams, most recently this year, as well as a Grand Slam in 2003. He also won six caps for the Lions.

Lewis Moody, who himself announced his retirement from international rugby in October, paid tribute to the departing fly-half.

“I'm humbled to have played alongside him,” he said. “I'm saddened but 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. If he puts his mind to it he could keep doing it — and I think he could have given more.”

Wilkinson's retirement deprives the interim England coach, Stuart Lancaster, of his use in the forthcoming Six Nations.

Lancaster, though, was unsurprisingly positive about Wilkinson's contribution. “Jonny has had a fantastic international career which has spanned four World Cups and 91 caps, and ranks as one of England's greatest ever players,” he said.

After spending 12 years at Newcastle, Wilkinson has played for French side Toulon for the last two seasons, and he said that he remains committed to them.

“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,” Wilkinson added yesterday.

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