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Wilkinson retires from international rugby

Updated: December 12, 2011, 18:38


LONDON(AP) Jonny Wilkinson, England's World Cup-winning flyhalf in 2003, retired from international rugby on Monday to end a stellar 13-year test career in which he established himself as one of the greatest placekickers in the sport's history.

Widely regarded as rugby's ultimate professional, the 32-year-old Wilkinson 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 & Irish Lions.

He acquired legendary status in England eight years ago by kicking the winning drop goal in the 20-17 extra-time victory over Australia in Sydney, at the end of a tournament in which he carried the team through to the final with his metronomic goalkicking.

Wilkinson will continue playing club rugby with French team Toulon, which he joined from longtime English side Newcastle Falcons in 2009, but said it was the right moment to quit the international scene he entered as an 18-year-old in 1998.

"The time has come ... for me to realize that I have gone as far as I can go with this England team and that the time is right for others to enjoy the same honor and pride that I have felt over the past 15 seasons and beyond,'' Wilkinson said in a statement on his personal website.

A 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 would have seen off many players.

Wilkinson never lost his desire and commitment, though, and made comeback after comeback before rediscovering his fitness and some of his best form by moving to the warmer climate in the south of France.

Having lost his place in the England team to Toby Flood for this year's Six Nations title-winning campaign, Wilkinson regained the No. 10 jersey in time for the start of the World Cup but failed to produce his form of old with the boot.

His last appearance for England was in the 19-12 quarterfinal defeat to France.

"Having spoken to him about it, I know that he was very disappointed about the last World Cup,'' said Toulon coach Bernard Laporte. "He's 32 - what's the point in him playing the next Six Nations tournament if he's not going to play in the next World Cup? He had everything to lose. It's a wise decision.''

Teammates past and present lined up to pay tribute to Wilkinson, who scored seven tries and kicked 255 penalties and 169 conversions in his test career.

"I'm humbled to have played alongside him,'' said Lewis Moody, who captained England in the 2011 World Cup. "I'm saddened but his contribution over the years, his work ethic, professionalism and commitment, has been immense.

"He put everything into what he did. It was incredible to watch him train and perform. The fact he missed four years of international rugby but still amassed 97 caps is unimaginable.''

Clive Woodward, England's World Cup-winning coach, added: "He was the No. 1 player in the world at that time. No coach would not have wanted him in their team.''

Mike Tindall is now the only member of England's World Cup-winning team to still be playing international rugby.

"I will continue to focus ever harder on my goal of being the very best I can be with Toulon and continue to embrace and enjoy wherever that path takes me,'' said Wilkinson, who also helped guide England to the 2007 World Cup final where it lost to South Africa. "I certainly have no intention of letting this decision change the way that I approach my training and preparation for games. In fact, early indication shows me that I'm actually getting more intense about it.''

Wilkinson may have been surpassed by Carter in the all-time scorers list but he still holds the world record for test drop goals (36) and scored 277 points in World Cups, another record.

"He will, of course, be remembered for that drop goal,'' interim England coach Stuart Lancaster said. "But he is more than that. A model sportsman, down to earth and hardworking, who has never stopped trying to be the best that he can.

"Everyone who has played with, coached and watched Jonny play should feel privileged to have had an involvement with him. Not only has he been a world-class player, but he has inspired thousands to play and watch the game of rugby.''

A perfectionist with an obsessive eye for detail, Wilkinson felt he could have done more in the test arena despite his haul of points.

"I know myself well enough to know that I will never truly be satisfied,'' he said.

Flood is likely to slot back in as England's first-choice flyhalf for the Six Nations starting in February, although Saracens No. 10 Owen Farrell could also come into consideration.

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