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Jonny Wilkinson ready to hang up his boots

Jonny Wilkinson says he has gone with his "gut feeling" in deciding to call time on one of the most celebrated careers in rugby history.

England's 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson could move into a coaching role. Picture: PA
England's 2003 World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson could move into a coaching role. Picture: PA

Wilkinson, 35 on Sunday, will bow out of the game he graced for England, the British and Irish Lions, Newcastle and latterly Toulon, after the French Top 14 final against Castres on May 31.

Before then, he faces a Heineken Cup final appointment with Saracens at the Millennium Stadium as the curtain falls on a remarkable career. He won the World Cup win during a 91-cap England career, played in six British and Irish Lions Tests and collected domestic and European honours.

Typical of the selflessness that has underpinned Wilkinson's career, he announced the retirement decision early this week in order that Toulon's Heineken preparations would not be hindered.

"I have been thinking about it throughout the year, and now is the right time and right feeling," said Wilkinson, speaking from Toulon yesterday. "I also know that I want to get it completely out of the way so that we focus more than ever on these two games. It's a weight off my shoulders, to be honest. It has just been a gut feeling thing, and the gut feeling is loud and pretty true right now."

Wilkinson's decision to retire had been widely expected, but now that he has announced it, the fly-half has admitted to a degree of nervousness.

"There is a huge amount of fear for anybody who is going into an area to which they are not accustomed," he added. "Having been playing rugby since the day I left school, and having never had a proper job, I think this leaves me a bit unprepared in terms of what comes next. But at the same time, I am seeing that as a positive step next in which everyone has to make.

"Everyone thinks they can carry on forever, but it is becoming ever more apparent when you see the size of the guys running alongside you - and at you - that it is ultimately a younger man's sport and reserved for those that have their future ahead of them, and not mine."

A move into coaching, particularly skills-based and kicking, might now appeal to a player whose extra-time drop-goal won England the World Cup at Australia's expense in 2003.

"Hopefully, I would love to have an opportunity to work on skills and to really try to maximise the ability of the team by working individually on a one-on-one basis," he said. "That is kind of where I would love to spend my time in rugby, certainly initially. I would love to try to get the best out of everyone."

Wilkinson, whether he likes it or not, will be the centre of attention in Cardiff and Paris over the next two weekends, but he is determined not to be deflected as Toulon target European and domestic glory. "With these two big games, preparation is paramount. It speaks for itself that every second we have together we really need to make the most of."

Wilkinson will enter retirement bearing the ultimate tribute from Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, who believes the World Cup winner's influence has changed the face of the game. "I've never had the privilege to coach Jonny but he will get a huge number of plaudits and rightly so," Lancaster said. "He has changed the way the game has been played, but more importantly changed the way in which people prepare to play the game.

"Jonny has the full repertoire as a fly-half. He's got an unbelievable kicking game, his defence is simply outstanding and he has great distribution off either hand. To do that so consistently for so long sets him apart. I'm not sure what his desire is to do post-rugby, but I'd certainly want him to feel part of the England team."

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