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Wilko could snub England for Toulon stay
ESPNscrum Staff
December 14, 2010
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson fails to score a try against London Irish, London Irish v Toulon, Heineken Cup, Madejski Stadium, Reading, England, December 12, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson starred in Toulon's win over London Irish at the weekend © Getty Images

Jonny Wilkinson is prepared to challenge England's hardline stance against selecting overseas-based players by signing a new deal to stay at Toulon.

The Rugby Football Union wrote to Wilkinson and the England squad a fortnight ago announcing their "absolute intention" to only pick players from domestic clubs following the 2011 World Cup.

Wilkinson's current contract expires in the summer but Toulon coach Philippe Saint-Andre confirmed his star fly-half is close to agreeing a new deal.

That would either force England to back down and pick Wilkinson under their "exceptional circumstances" clause, or signal the end of his glittering international career.

Wilkinson said: "I can understand where they are coming from and what they're saying. 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 want to carry on doing that now. 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. I want to keep getting better day by day. That has always been the overall goal. I will keep doing that and see where it leads me."

Wilkinson, who helped Toulon to a 19-13 Heineken Cup victory over London Irish on Sunday, is two games into a return from the shoulder injury which forced him to miss England's four November internationals. Toulon captain Joe Van Niekerk afterwards described Wilkinson as a "genius" and Irish boss Toby Booth suggested he is getting better with age.

Wilkinson is no longer England's first choice fly-half but, fitness permitting, he will return to the squad for the Six Nations. In an ideal world, Wilkinson would like to continue playing for both Toulon and England after the 2011 World Cup.

The RFU's undefined "exceptional circumstances" clause could allow for that, but Wilkinson does not want to be singled out. James Haskell is out of contract with Stade Francais in the summer.

"It's something I don't want to get involved in. I'm just one player in this sort of situation and there are others in the same situation," Wilkinson added. "I do want to keep getting better and that means playing at the peak of the game. That stays the same. But it is always a day-by-day thing for me, so thinking about what I am going to do next year doesn't work for me. What works is thinking about what is coming up."

Saint-Andre threw in the possibility that Wilkinson could spend two years with Toulon and then return to England in time to play in the 2015 World Cup on home soil, when he will be 36.

"Jonny is very happy with us. I think he will sign for one more year plus a one-year option. It is nearly done," Saint-Andre said. "Maybe Jonny 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. The English players who are 29 or 30 and wanting a new experience will still come to France, but those who are 24 or 25 will stay in England. I don't have any problem with this."

New Zealand and Australia operate a strict policy of only selecting players who are based at home, though South Africa have relaxed their stance on the issue. Saint-Andre believes France could follow England's lead.

"I completely understand the view of the RFU and I wouldn't be surprised if the French do the same in one or two years' time," he said. "At the moment in France the French League is more important than the French team. There are more people watching and more interest in the newspapers. It looks a little bit like the English Premiership in football."

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