Wilkinson drops out of rugby with fitting finale

Jonny Wilkinson brought the curtain down on a stunning career by scoring a trademark right-footed drop goal to help Toulon to their first Top 14 success in 22 years on Saturday.

The build up to the match had been more about Wilkinson’s last ever match as a professional than Toulon’s hopes to make history by completing a European Cup-Top 14 double.

And the 35-year-old rose to the occasion as he had done on so many other occasions to steal the show as Toulon gained revenge on Castres for defeat in last year’s final with an 18-10 success — Wilkinson scored 15 points.

Having been the star of England’s 2003 World Cup triumph by landing a last minute winning drop goal in extra-time to beat Australia on their soil, it was only fitting that Wilkinson should bow out in similar style.

And he did so by displaying the perfectionism that he made a constant throughout his career.

A left footer, he trained his right foot so diligently as to become as proficient a kicker with that foot as his favoured one.

And so it was that he nonchalantly knocked over a right-footed drop goal to give Toulon the lead in the final for the first time — a lead they would never relinquish.

That success meant that Wilkinson could end his career the way he started it in his first season in professional rugby with Newcastle in 1997/98, as a winner of a national championship.

Wilkinson’s trophy cabinet is as bursting as a man of his calibre’s should be with a World Cup winners medal alongside two European Cup gongs and one each from both the English Premiership and French Top 14.

Not to mention he was a part of four Six Nations winning sides, including the 2003 Grand Slam England outfit.

Yet curiously, despite this long list of honours, Wilkinson actually ran the risk of finishing his career with an underwhelming club record until the last couple of years.

He won the English Premiership with Newcastle in 1998, his first season as a professional, but despite World Cup and Grand Slam glory with England in the meantime, it took him another 15 years to add a second club trophy, not including a couple of Anglo-Welsh Cup successes in 2001 and 2004.

In fact, had he not twice decided to put back his impending retirement, he could have finished with just one club medal.

Newcastle never got near repeating their 1998 triumph, finishing eighth the next season and never managing to finish above sixth during the next decade before Wilkinson moved on in 2009.

He joined the big-spending south coast club Toulon, whose enigmatic owner, the comic-book magnate Mourad Boudjellal, had big plans for his club.

Initially, though, they were to come frustratingly close, without getting the cigar.

In Wilkinson’s first season in France, Toulon lost the Challenge Cup final to Cardiff in nearby Marseille 28-21.

Two years later they did a double of losing finals, falling to Biarritz in the Challenge Cup and Toulouse in the Top 14 final.

In fact they would lose another Top 14 final in 2013 to Castres but by then, Toulon had ended their long trophy drought, dating back to 1992, by stunning Clermont in the 2013 European Cup final.

It was Wilkinson’s first major club medal since 1998 and a welcome relief after three successive final defeats, or four if you include the 2007 World Cup final.

Many thought he would retire but the born winner wasn’t about to go out on a losing final and Wilkinson signed on for one more year with history-making on his mind.

And now he has done exactly that, Wilkinson can go and enjoy his retirement and look back on a career in which he won the lot.


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