Cyprus Mail

World Cup winner Wilkinson to retire at end of season

Sporting folklore: Jonny Wilkinson will forever be remembered for kicking England’s winning drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final against Australia

By Josh Reich

Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, whose last-gasp drop goal secured England World Cup glory in 2003, will retire from rugby at the end of the season, he announced on Monday.

The 34-year-old will look to end his 17-year senior career on a high when he leads holders Toulon in the Heineken Cup final against Saracens on Saturday, followed a week later by the Top 14 decider against Castres when his side seek to win a first French championship in over two decades.

“I would like to take this opportunity to formally announce my retirement from playing rugby,” he said in a statement on Toulon’s website (
“It goes without saying that I have an enormous number of people to thank for their support from all around the world but especially here in France and in England.”

Wilkinson made his Test debut in 1998 at the age of 18, becoming England’s second-youngest international, with his second Test a 76-0 thrashing at the hand of Australia in the so-called ‘Tour of Hell’.

From that inauspicious start he went on to play 91 Test matches for his country, despite suffering a number of serious injuries, helping them to the 2003 World Cup title and runners-up four years later.

He played six Tests for the British and Irish Lions, and is the second-highest Test points scorer behind New Zealand’s Dan Carter with 1246.
Noted for his unique kicking stance that was later replicated by players around the world, he was deadly in front of the posts and unflappable in the most highly-charged of match situations, never more so than the 2003 World Cup final against Australia in Sydney.

While he did not like to be defined by his drop-goal in the last minute of extra-time that won England their first and only world championship, it is undoubtedly the image that comes to mind for rugby fans the world over.

The highs were also matched by lows, Wilkinson suffering a succession of injuries with his refusal to shirk a tackle and general bravery on the pitch leading to a litany of serious knee, arm and shoulder problems.

After the 2003 World Cup final, he did not play another Test for England until February 2007, having been invalided out of the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005 after the second Test.

He helped England to a grand slam in 2003 and further Six Nations titles in 2000, 2001 and 2011.
“For four years from 1999 to 2003 he was one of the greats of the game,” former England international Stuart Barnes told Sky Sports.
“He sealed his reputation as England’s greatest fly-half of all time. Through injury and loss of form, he rather lost his way a little bit but the way he is finishing his career and playing brilliantly is quite incredible.

“You wouldn’t say he was the most naturally gifted player but the work he has put in to become the player he is is quite astonishing. He is undoubtedly the greatest professional in terms of work ethic that professional rugby has ever seen.”

At club level he spent a decade at Newcastle Falcons, and then moved to France in 2009, where his late-career revival helped Toulon to their first Heineken Cup title in 2013 and to this season’s decider against Saracens.

“This however is not at all the time to be concentrating on this as I would like to focus all my attention and energy on the team and these final two games of the season,” added Wilkinson, who will celebrate his 35th birthday a day after the final.

“I sincerely thank you all for everything you have given me and for making these last 17 years something I will never forget.”

His last match will be the Top 14 final against holders Castres in Paris on May 31, when he can sign off on his career by leading Toulon to its first French championship since 1992, having been runners-up in 2012 and 2013.

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