No comeback for Wilkinson

2014-09-20 07:18
Jonny Wilkinson (Gallo Images)

Paris - Former England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson has ruled out any comeback from retirement despite a raft of injuries that have stifled Toulon's start to the Top 14 season.

The metronomic Wilkinson hung up his boots last season having led Toulon not only to the Top 14 title but also to the defence of their European Cup crown.

But the club from south France have struggled this season with injuries to playmakers Matt Giteau and Frederic Michalak, while goal-kicking Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny has yet to start a game.

In an interview with AFP, Wilkinson, on Toulon's books as a skills and kicking coach, said: "For me it's been a very interesting idea to discuss and debate, but I've always been quite clear that my time, my career, finished last year and I was very fortunate the way it finished.

"But also I'd known not just last year but the year before: I started to feel that my time was coming to an end.

"There were younger players who needed to get out there and play, get their chance and flourish. Although I was enjoying myself and things were going well, I started to feel I was almost blocking the route for others."

He added: "I do start to say 'I used to do this and I used to do that'. So I guess I've moved on. When I talk to players now, my career is in the past."

Wilkinson, who famously hit the injury-time drop-goal that sealed England's victory over Australia to win the 2003 World Cup, is well known for his professional approach to the sport.

And the 35-year-old, capped 91 times by England and six times by the British and Irish Lions, admitted he lacked the mental strength needed to put himself through the exacting dedication he always asked of himself as a rugby player.

"With how obsessive I am about what I do, the decision between finishing and playing is not just as simple as putting on a pair of boots and saying 'right off we go'," he told AFP.

"If I was to say I needed to play again now, I would need probably four or five months of nothing but solid mental focus, training, getting back to it.

"Do I have the mental power to do that four or five months? Probably not, I think I've left that behind.

"I knew my time was borrowed. There was an end coming, and now what inspires me is being able to help others get the best out of themselves."

There was also the question of the durability of an ageing back in one of the world's toughest leagues.

"The Top 14 is a fabulous league, I've enjoyed my team over the last five years, I've had an amazing time here, there's no doubt it's been life-changing, but there's a lot of rugby," Wilkinson said.

"If the team is relying on you to play a lot of games then it can get tough. And if you're playing with a bang and it gets worse and worse, after a while there comes a critical point where it affects your performance. If you go too far down that route, then it takes time to come back."

Turning to the Rugby World Cup that England will host in September-October 2015, Wilkinson said the competition should be fierce.

"The good thing about the World Cup next year is that the number of teams can win it is so big. There are so many teams that can do really something special so there'll be a lot of games to watch," said the former Newcastle Falcons player.

"My first involvement in the World Cup was in 1999. It was a huge eye opener, an opportunity to suddenly see what rugby at its highest level was all about. It's like taking the international game and lifting it up another two levels."

Wilkinson also admitted that his exploits in the 2003 final topped his sporting memories.

"In the last seconds of extra-time, we were able to beat Australia in Australia and it will undoubtedly be the best rugby memory of my life," he said.

Wilkinson said he had high hopes for the current England team's chances on home soil next year, adding that they needed a strong showing in the upcoming autumn internationals and consistency in the Six Nations to build a winning habit and confidence.

"I see the chances for England being great. The team is playing well and the foundation is really strong," he said.

"The fact that the tournament is going to be in England will be a huge advantage. Should that consistency and habit of winning not be in place, it may help us out in a few games."

Read more on:    toulon  |  french top 14  |  jonny wilkinson  |  rugby

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