Wilkinson retires from rugby

England's Jonny Wilkinson kicks a penalty during the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Photo / AP
England's Jonny Wilkinson kicks a penalty during the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Photo / AP

England great Jonny Wilkinson will retire from rugby at the end of the season, capping an illustrious 17-year career in which he kicked the winning drop-goal in the 2003 World Cup final to become one of his country's most treasured sportsmen.

The 34-year-old first-five made the widely anticipated announcement in a brief statement on the website of his French club Toulon today, five days before its defense of the Heineken Cup title against Saracens in Cardiff.

Wilkinson's last match will be the Top 14 final against Castres on May 31.

"This ... 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," a typically modest Wilkinson said. "I sincerely thank you all for everything you have given me and for making these last 17 years something I will never forget."

Wilkinson is widely regarded as England's greatest number 10 and was arguably the world's top first-five from 1999-2003, when England won its first World Cup thanks to his match-clinching drop goal late in extra time in the final against Australia.

Known by most as "Wilko," he scored 1,246 test points - a total that is second only to New Zealand No. 10 Dan Carter - in 91 tests with England and six with the British and Irish Lions.

A brilliant place-kicker and fiercely committed defender with a powerful tackle for a player in his position, Wilkinson's post-2003 World Cup career was blighted by a series of injuries that left his body a wreck and would have seen off many players.

He never lost his desire and commitment, though, and made comeback after comeback before rediscovering his fitness and best form by leaving Newcastle Falcons to move to the warmer climate in the south of France in 2009.

Playing for big-spending Toulon with a slew of other world-class players gave him a fresh start and took him to the pinnacle of the European game in the twilight of his career. Last year, he was voted European Player of the Year after playing a starring role in Toulon's first European Cup success, sealed by a win over Clermont Auvergne in the final.

"Jonny has had an unbelievable career," current England flyhalf Owen Farrell said in an interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph, "and you don't know if there is one better."

Wilkinson helped guide England to the 2007 World Cup final, where the team lost to South Africa, and also played in the tournaments in 1999 and 2011.

- AP

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