Wilkinson faces exile over new Toulon deal
Published 14/12/2010 | 05:00
A new deal with Toulon could signal the end of England out-half Jonny Wilkinson's international career.
The English Rugby Football Union (RFU) has said that it will only select players playing outside England after the 2011 World Cup in exceptional circumstances.
Wilkinson is on the verge of putting pen to paper on a renewed deal with Toulon, the club he joined 18 months ago. If he does, he will be ruled out of contention for England if they stay true to their word and favour home-based players.
"Jonny is happy with us and I think he will sign for one more year plus a one-year option," said Toulon director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre.
"It is nearly done. Maybe Jonny will play two years with us and if he is still fit and happy he will then go back to England to play in the next World Cup in England in 2015."
That scenario is highly unlikely. Wilkinson will be 36 by then. The man himself lives in the moment and for the moment.
His foremost priority is getting in the right state of mind to repeat Sunday's poised performance at the Madejski Stadium when London Irish play the return leg of the back-to-back Heineken Cup fixtures on Saturday.
There is no doubt that the move to the south of France has touched something in Wilkinson's soul. The pay packet (€400,000 a year) is the least of it.
"I am happy where I am," said Wilkinson. "It fits the bill for me. I am enjoying the experience and I'm learning a hell of a lot. I can understand where they (the RFU) are coming from and what they're saying. I'm just one player in this sort of situation."
"It's something I don't want to get involved in (speculation over England). My main aim is to keep getting better and better. I made a move a year and a half ago to try to continue to do that.
"It is always a day-to-day thing for me, so thinking about what I am going go to do next year doesn't work.
"I'm not willing to compromise in any way. I'm not going to lose the desire to get better and improve. I need to make sure I am in a position to do that."
Wilkinson has seen former Newcastle team-mate Toby Flood overtake him in the England pecking order, with the last three of his 80 caps coming as a substitute.
That situation would not have changed during the November Tests, a series that Wilkinson missed because of a shoulder injury.
The greater financial clout of the French clubs has set alarm bells ringing at the RFU. Even though there is now a salary cap in France, it is almost double that of the Premiership clubs' £4.2m.
"I can see why the RFU are doing this," said Saint-Andre. "I wouldn't be surprised if the French do the same.
"Here, the French league is more important than the French team. It's a bit like English football." (Daily Telegraph, London)