Kicker supreme Wilkinson quits England after dazzling career
JONNY Wilkinson - the fly-half and perfectionist who kicked England to World Cup glory - tonight quit Test rugby with the revelation: "I will never truly be satisfied."
Wilkinson has called time on an international career that harvested 91 England caps, six British and Irish Lions Test appearances and a total of 1,246 points.
The 32-year-old also played in four World Cups, including the 2003 campaign Down Under when his drop goal 17 seconds from the end of extra time broke Australian hearts in Sydney and meant England had conquered planet rugby.
Outside of his prodigious points-scoring ability, Wilkinson's obsessive eye for detail and a relentless work ethic assumed almost legendary status within the sport.
And the former Newcastle number 10, who will continue playing for wealthy French club Toulon, also repeatedly showed a never-say die attitude during his darkest days.
At one stage of his career post-2003 World Cup, Wilkinson played barely 15 hours' competitive rugby in 18 months as a succession of injuries - including shoulder trouble, knee ligament damage, a lacerated kidney and a hernia - laid him low.
But he kept bouncing back, underlining his status as arguably the most-celebrated England player in rugby history through numerous match-winning displays.
Current England head coach Stuart Lancaster and former captain Lewis Moody led the tributes to Wilkinson, with Lancaster describing him as an inspiration and Moody saying he had been humbled to play alongside him.
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Wilkinson made a lengthy retirement announcement on his official website www.jonnywilkinson.com, and it comes less than a month before Lancaster announces England's elite player squad for 2012.
"I would like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from international rugby," Wilkinson said.
"To do so 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.
"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!
"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 continued: "I have far too many people to thank for what I have been able to achieve, but as always, it starts with my mum and dad, my brother Mark, my girlfriend Shelley, Steve Black, Tim Buttimore and Dave Alred as well as the rest of my family and friends.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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."
Lancaster, who was appointed last week as England's interim head coach for the RBS 6 Nations Championship that starts in February, is likely to tap into Wilkinson's vast rugby knowledge.
"He will continue to do great things with Toulon, and I would like to go and see him in France to learn from his vast knowledge and experience of 13 years at the very top of the international game," Lancaster said.
"Jonny has had a fantastic international career which has spanned four World Cups and 91 caps, and he ranks as one of England's greatest ever players.
"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.
"Everyone who has played with, coached and watched Jonny play should feel privileged to have had an involvement with him.
"Not only has he been a world-class player, but he has inspired thousands to play and watch the game of rugby."
And Moody, who stepped down from Test rugby in October, added on Sky Sports News: "I am humbled to have played alongside him.
"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."
The Jonny Wilkinson Factfile
1979: Born Frimley, Surrey, May 25.
1997: Beginning his career with Newcastle, Wilkinson plays for England Under-21s as they beat New Zealand, France and Wales.
1998: Named as substitute for England versus Scotland in Five Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield at age of 18 years and 301 days.
April - Makes England debut against Ireland, coming off the bench at Twickenham.
1999: February - Makes first start for England at age of 19 in Five Nations against Scotland and kicks four goals as England win Calcutta Cup match 24-21.
Claims Six Nations individual tournament record with 35 points in England's 80-23 thrashing of Italy.
November - Scores all 21 points as England beat Australia at Twickenham.
2002: May - Suffers ankle ligament damage in Newcastle's defeat by Gloucester, ruling him out for the rest of the season.
2002: December - Awarded an MBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List.
2003: February/March - Scores 77 points as England clinch Six Nations Grand Slam, finishing as the competition's top scorer.
2003: November - Wilkinson's drop-goal deep into extra-time earns England a 20-17 victory over Australia in the World Cup final at Sydney. Also contributed four penalties, the pass to set up England's try from Jason Robinson, accurate kicking out of hand, and some crunching tackles. Wilkinson had earlier kicked all England's points in their 24-7 semi-final victory over France.
December - Wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Confirmed he will receive an OBE in the 2004 New Year Honours list.
2004: February - Ruled out of Six Nations and three-Test tour to New Zealand and Australia after shoulder operation.
August - Makes his comeback after eight months out in Newcastle's pre-season friendly against Connacht in Galway.
October - Confirmed as Lawrence Dallaglio's successor as England captain for the three November Test matches, but later forced to pull out of the games due to a haematoma in the upper right arm.
2005: January - Suffers knee ligament damage in Newcastle's Heineken Cup defeat in Perpignan.
March - Suffers medial ligament damage on Newcastle comeback against Harlequins.
May - Late addition to the Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand.
November - Has a major operation for related groin problems.
2006: January - Suffers a torn adductor muscle.
April - Finishes the season with Newcastle, playing in Premiership games against Sale, Worcester and Leeds, plus Falcons' European Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to London Irish.
August - Named in 41-man England elite player squad for the new international season.
September - Forced off with knee ligament injury during Newcastle's home game against Worcester, effectively ending his hopes of playing in the autumn Tests.
2007: February - Makes a dream international comeback, scoring a Calcutta Cup record 27 points - including a full house of try, penalty, conversion and drop goal - as England romp to 42-20 victory over Scotland. Also becomes the leading points scorer in Five and Six Nations history with a third-minute penalty against Italy at Twickenham.
June - Captains England in second Test of disastrous summer tour of South Africa.
October - Kicks all of England's points as they beat Australia 12-10 in the World Cup quarter-finals. The match sees Wilkinson overtake Gavin Hastings as the World Cup's all-time leading points-scorer. Also kicks all of England's points in the final, but they lose 15-6 to South Africa.
2008: February - Becomes first player to pass 1,000 points for England in 23-19 victory over Italy. Overtakes Hugo Porta's world record with 29th drop goal in Tests as England win 24-13 in France.
March - Overtakes Neil Jenkins as Test rugby's leading points-scorer in 15-9 defeat by Scotland.
September - Suffers dislocated left kneecap during Newcastle's Premiership defeat at Gloucester. Ruled out for five months after surgery, missing England's 2009 Six Nations campaign.
2009: May - Joins French club Toulon.
November - Recalled to the England Test line-up.
2010: March - Regains overall points total record in Six Nations, going past Ronan O'Gara.
June - Scores decisive points as England beat Australia in Sydney.
October - Ruled out of England's autumn international programme with a shoulder injury.
December - Signs new two-year contract extension with Toulon, keeping him with the French club through to 2013.
2011: September - Involved in ball-swapping controversy during World Cup win against Romania in New Zealand, which saw two members of England's backroom staff suspended.
October 8 - After campaign marred by off-field problems, England are knocked out of World Cup by France in quarter-finals. Les Bleus won 19-12 in Auckland.
December 12 - Announces retirement from international rugby.