JONNY WILKINSON has signed a new two-year that will keep him at Toulon until the summer of 2013, the French club have confirmed.
Fly half Wilkinson has put himself on a collision course with the Rugby Football Union’s stance that England will not pick any players plying their trade overseas following the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
Wilkinson, 31, a World Cup winner with England in 2003, had been widely expected to extend his stay in the south of France after making a major impact following his move from Newcastle in the summer of 2009.
Wilkinson, capped 86 times, scored 302 points during his first season with Toulon, helping Philippe Saint-Andre’s side to reach the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup, where they lost to Cardiff Blues in Marseille, as well as the semi-finals of the Top 14.
He has been just as imprerssive this time round, helping the French side to the top of a testing Heineken Cup pool which includes Munster, Ospreys and London Irish.
He was voted the best overseas player in the French league at the end of last month and Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal had previously stated his desire to keep him “at any price”.
Dropped to second choice
While he has flourished in France Wilkinson has dropped to second-choice behind Toby Flood in the England pecking order, and has not started a Test since the Six Nations draw with Scotland in March. A shoulder injury kept him out of this year’s autumn internationals.
Wilkinson’s decision to pen a new contract does not necessarily mean that next year’s World Cup will signal the end of his international career.
The RFU have stated that players who chose to play for French clubs could still be selected for international duty under “exceptional circumstances”.
The stance has been designed with success at the England-hosted 2015 World Cup in mind, but Wilkinson will be 36 by then and is unlikely to still be playing at the highest level.
But a man of his experience could be seen as a useful figure to have around the national squad for a year or two after next year’s World Cup, and his new deal may leave the RFU with an uncomfortable choice between abiding by the new declaration and selecting a player still worthy of his place in the national set-up.