England flyhalf great Jonny Wilkinson retired from international rugby union on Monday.
“I would like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from international rugby,” Wilkinson, said in a statement on his own website, Jonnywilkinson.com.
“To do so fills me with great sadness, but I know I have been blessed in so many ways to have experienced what I have with the England rugby team,” Wilkinson, England’s record points scorer and second on the all-time list behind New Zealand’s Dan Carter, added.
Wilkinson assured himself of a place in rugby union history with the extra-time drop-goal that saw England, with just seconds remaining, win the 2003 World Cup final against hosts Australia in Sydney.
But a succession of injuries meant it was about four years before he played another Test, and at the recent World Cup in New Zealand even his normally reliable goalkicking let him down as England, beset by off-field problems, crashed out in the quarterfinals to France.
Widely regarded as the best defensive flyhalf Test rugby has seen, Wilkinson’s international retirement means England will start the defence of their Six Nations title away to Scotland in February without him in their squad.
A special feeling
The 32-year-old Wilkinson bowed out from Tests as England’s record points scorer with 1 179 points from 91 Test matches, a haul comprising six tries, 162 conversions, 239 penalties and a record 36 drop-goals.
He also scored 67 points in six Tests for the British and Irish Lions on tours of Australia (2001) and New Zealand (2005) for an overall tally of 1 246.
But the deep-lying Wilkinson, in the view of some pundits, became symptomatic of all that was wrong with England’s attack, with his status meaning that during his numerous injury absences none of his possible successors were able to make the No. 10 shirt truly their own.
Wilkinson’s statement added: “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!” he added.
“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,” added Wilkinson, who also saluted the much criticised England backroom staff at this year’s World Cup, of whom only scrum supremo Graham Rowntree will be working with interim boss Lancaster.
“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.”
But former Newcastle stand-off Wilkinson said he would continue playing for Toulon, the French club he joined in 2009.
“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.”
Fellow World Cup winner Lewis Moody, England’s captain in New Zealand before announcing his Test retirement in October, told Sky Sports he’d been “humbled” to have played alongside Wilkinson.
“I’m saddened but his contribution over the years, his work ethic, professionalism and commitment, has been immense,” the Bath flanker said.
“The fact he missed four years of international rugby but still amassed 97 caps is unimaginable,” Moody said.
“What he’s given to the sport, and a generation, is immense.”
And while Moody insisted Wilkinson could have continued at Test level, he understood his reasons for ending his England career.
“If he puts his mind to it he could keep doing it … But for him the decision is right and considering the amount of work he’s put in and the number of injuries he’s had in his career, he deserves to enjoy a long and restful retirement.”
England wing Ugo Mony said: “I went to school with Johnny. The way he trained then as a 16-year-old is just how he trains now.”
Lancaster, appointed England’s acting head coach following the post World Cup resignation of team manager Johnson, the 2003 World Cup winning captain, paid tribute to Wilkinson.
“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,” Lancaster said in a Rugby Football Union statement.
“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.” — AFP