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Wilkinson signs for another year in the sun

England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has agreed to a contract extension with French club Toulon in a move that may jeopardise his chances of making the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.


AFP - England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson signed a contract extension with French Top 14 club Toulon for a further season with an option for a second on Monday, in a move which could spell the end of his international career.

The 86-times capped 31-year-old, with 1,178 international points to his name, will continue playing for the southern French outfit until 2013.

Wilkinson, whose extra-time drop-goal won the 2003 World Cup for England, arrived at Toulon in the summer of 2009 from Newcastle and scored 302 points in his first season in France. This season he is the top scorer in the French league with 169 points.

However, his decision to stay in France could have serious implications for his international career after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) decided to only select players from domestic clubs after the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

His only escape route would be if the RFU activated its get-out "exceptional circumstances" clause.

"I can understand where they (the RFU) are coming from," said Wilkinson recently.

"For me, in my situation at the moment, my main aim is to keep getting better and I made a move (to Toulon) a year and a half ago to try to continue to do that.

"I am happy where I am, it fits the bill for me. I am enjoying the experience and I'm learning a hell of a lot. I owe a lot to these guys.

Wilkinson has not started a Test for England since the Six Nations clash with Scotland in March after a shoulder injury kept him out of the autumn internationals.

During that period, he saw his international points record surpassed by New Zealand No 10 Dan Carter and former Newcastle understudy Toby Flood assume the role of England's first choice fly-half.

England have previously made dire threats about the harm players risked to their international prospects by moving to France, only to select the likes of Andy Goode, whose career was revived by a cross-Channel move.

Wilkinson is not the only current England player in France, with back-row James Haskell appearing for Paris-based Stade Francais.

For Wilkinson, renowned as one of the greatest defensive No 10s in Test history, a club v country row is one thing he'd rather not tackle.

"It's something I don't want to get involved in," he said.

Toulon coach Philippe Saint-Andre suggested recently that Wilkinson could eventually return home in time to play in the 2015 World Cup in England, when the outside-half will be 36.

"Jonny is very happy with us. Maybe he will play two years with us and if he is still fit and happy he will then go back to England to play in the next World Cup in England in 2015.

"I can see why they (the RFU) are doing this. The next World Cup is in England and they want to be in control of the players."

Toulon club president Mourad Boudjellal revealed ten days ago that Wilkinson was committed to extending his contract.

"It's magic because Jonny is perhaps the best player in the Top 14 and he's the one who gives us the least stress. It seems only natural that he should stay here. It feels as if he's always been here," he said.

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