England keen to keep retired Wilkinson involved
Updated: December 13, 2011, 07:02
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LONDON(AP) Although he won't pull on the white shirt and red rose again, Jonny Wilkinson could still be a force for the England rugby team.
The World Cup-winning flyhalf has decided against chasing the three appearances he needs to reach a century of test caps by retiring from international action to focus on club rugby with Toulon in France.
But England head coach Stuart Lancaster isn't ready to let Wilkinson go quietly.
"Everyone who has played with, coached and watched Jonny play should feel privileged to have had an involvement with him,'' Lancaster said. "Not only has he been a world-class player but he has inspired thousands to play and watch the game of rugby.
"He will continue to do great things with Toulon and I would like to go and see him in France to learn from his vast knowledge and experience of 13 years at the very top of the international game.''
After four World Cups, two tours with the British and Irish Lions, 1,246 international points and the winning dropped goal in rugby's biggest, highest-pressure match, the 32-year-old Wilkinson has a lot to share.
Wilkinson has been overtaken by Dan Carter in the list of all-time international scorers but still holds the record for test dropped goals (36) and scored 277 points in World Cups, another record.
"He was a marvelous team man,'' said Clive Woodward, who coached England and Wilkinson to the 2003 Rugby World Cup title. "He set out to be the No. 1 player in the world in his position but behind that his team ethic was fantastic and he was a real role model for that.
"I admired how he went about his business and how much work he did when no one was around. He did a lot on his own, studied and learned the game. It's a lesson to any young person about what has to happen.''
That's the sort of dedicated attitude Lancaster wants as he rebuilds following a disastrous World Cup campaign defined by poor performances and indiscipline.
Having been part of England's most successful teams, Wilkinson was dismayed by the lack of professionalism he saw in New Zealand.
The failure to follow coaching instructions and the infamous Queenstown drinking session represented a shocking change in attitudes from the tightly drilled squads of Woodward's time in charge.
For a man who famously spent lonely hours training after his teammates had gone home, it was incomprehensible.
"Jonny Wilkinson redefined the standards for rugby players in his extraordinary international playing career,'' Rugby Players' Association chief executive Damian Hopley said. "He has been one of the consistently outstanding world-class athletes of his generation and you could not wish to meet a better role model.
"His capacity for hard work, continual improvement and dedication has left a lasting legacy by which future players will be judged.''
Toby Flood, Danny Cipriani and Owen Farrell are the contenders for the No. 10 shirt who could learn from Wilkinson. Flood has already spent plenty of time working with Wilkinson as a teammate and rival for club and country.
Wilkinson, who played 91 times for England and six times for the Lions, is unlikely to turn down a request for help from his country.
"It goes without saying that I would like to wish Stuart Lancaster, his coaches and the England squad every bit of success available to them,'' Wilkinson said. "I would also very much like to extend those wishes to Martin Johnson, Brian Smith, Mike Ford, John Wells, Graham Rowntree and the rest of the England 2011 World cup management team who have been fantastic and deserve people to know that.''
Wilkinson at this year's World Cup was a shadow of the player who by 2003 had established himself as the best and most widely recognized player in the game.
The flyhalf had recovered from the absurdly long list of injuries that kept him out of the England side for four years and was widely praised for his performances at Toulon. But in New Zealand, his supremely reliable kicking game deserted him and his teammates' loose play left him looking isolated.
But even rival players believe he could have continued at the highest level had he wanted to.
"He's still got it,'' Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper said.