French Top 14
Wilkinson confirms Toulon switch
May 18, 2009
Jonny Wilkinson will be plying his trade for Toulon in France's top 14 next season © Getty Images
Sebastien Bruno Kris Chesney Felipe Contepomi Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe Tom May Jason Robinson Jonny Wilkinson
England's World Cup-winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has joined the exodus to France and signed for Toulon.
Wilkinson, who is believed to have signed a two-year contract, will end his 12-year association with the Falcons and become the latest England international to swap the Guinness Premiership for France's Top 14.
The all-time leading international points scorer, who turns 30 next week, was unveiled by Toulon chairman Mourad Boudjellal at their official squad launch for the 2009-10 season amongst a host of other recruits.
Toulon recently confirmed their top-flight status for next season and Wilkinson will be joined at the club by fellow Newcastle back Tom May, Cardiff's Jamie Robinson, Saracens' Kris Chesney, former Sale skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Scotland wing Rory Lamont, scrum-half Pierre Mignoni, Bristol's Joe el Abd, Sale's Sebastien Bruno, Munster prop Tim Ryan and injured Leinster fly-half Felipe Contepomi.
Former Sale director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre is another high-profile signing and he will take charge of the side alongside current player-coach Tana Umaga.
"Jonny still has to undergo further tests but for now, everything is fine [physically]," said Boudjellal. "He wants to play the 2011 World Cup with England. The only condition was that he would be available for England - for the Tests and the training camps. "If it doesn't work out, we'll put it down to a moment of folly. But who hasn't fantasised about a rugby player like Wilkinson, a great among the greats, a player who is out of this world?"
A delighted Saint-Andre added, "He [Wilkinson] is very motivated. He has undergone some tests because we want to make sure that he is 100 per cent fit when the season starts. He is a player who scores when the team dominate and who reassures his team-mates when they suffer."
The big-spending club's decision to sign Wilkinson carries a significant risk. Injuries have plagued the talented No.10 throughout his career and he hasn't played a game since dislocating a kneecap during the Premiership clash against Gloucester in October.
But Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal, no doubt expecting a surge in the sale of season tickets and replica jerseys on the back of the Wilkinson's arrival, appears to be satisfied with the England star's fitness levels and has made him the club's marquee signing for next season in a deal worth a reported 700,000 euros.
Wilkinson's move could also spell the end of his international ambitions, with RFU elite performance director Rob Andrew having warned players heading to France that they will be jeopardising their places within the England set-up. Riki Flutey, James Haskell, Tom Palmer, Jamie Noon and Iain Balshaw are the other England internationals who will move to France this summer.
Newcastle boss Steve Bates praised his departing superstar, who scored 1,948 points in his 174 appearances for the club. "Jonny will undoubtedly go down as one of Newcastle's all-time greats," he said. "He has contributed an incredible amount to this club over the past 12 seasons, and been an inspirational figurehead for rugby in the North-East.
"Even during the times when his appearances for us were restricted he has always remained a positive presence behind the scenes, and everyone here thanks him for his fantastic service as well as wishing him all the best for his new life over in France."
Wilkinson's debut for Toulon should come on the weekend of August 15/16 when next season's Top 14 campaign kicks off. Their victory over Montpellier at the weekend meant they finished in ninth place, outside the Heineken Cup spots.
Newcastle, long resigned to Wilkinson's departure, recently announced the signing of Junior All Black fly-half Jimmy Gopperth for next season.