Wilkinson: I had a gut feeling

Jonny Wilkinson says he has gone with his "gut feeling" in deciding to call time on one of the most celebrated careers in rugby union history.

Jonny Wilkinson has announced he will retire from rugby at the end of the season
Jonny Wilkinson has announced he will retire from rugby at the end of the season

Wilkinson, 35 next Sunday, will bow out of the game he graced for England, the British and Irish Lions, Newcastle and latterly Toulon in the French Top 14 final against Castres on May 31.

Before then, he faces a Heineken Cup final appointment with Saracens at the Millennium Stadium as the curtain falls on a remarkable career that saw him win the World Cup during a 91-cap England career, play in six British and Irish Lions Tests and land domestic and European honours.

And typical of Wilkinson's selflessness that has underpinned his career, he announced the retirement decision early this week in order that Toulon's Heineken preparations would not be hindered.

"I have been thinking about it throughout the year, and now is the right time and right feeling," said Wilkinson, speaking from Toulon on Monday.

"I also know that I want to get it completely out of the way so that we focus more than ever on these two games. It's a weight off my shoulders, to be honest.

"It has just been a gut feeling thing, and the gut feeling is loud and pretty true right now."

Wilkinson's decision to retire had been widely expected, but now that he has announced it, the fly-half superstar has admitted to a degree of nervousness.

"There is a huge amount of fear for anybody who is going into an area to which they are not accustomed," he added.

"Having been playing rugby since the day I left school, and having never had a proper job, I think this leaves me a bit unprepared in terms of what comes next.

"But at the same time I am seeing that as a positive step next in which everyone has to make.

"Everyone thinks they can carry on forever, but it is becoming ever more apparent when you see the size of the guys running alongside you - and at you - that it is ultimately a younger man's sport and reserved for those that have their future ahead of them, and not mine."

A move into coaching, particularly skills-based and kicking, might now appeal to a player whose extra time drop-goal won England the World Cup at Australia's expense in 2003.

"I see so much potential around in so many players. I see so many making such huge sacrifices for their teams and really testing themselves," Wilkinson said.

"If I can help make a difference - even if it's only a small percentage - then it all comes around.

"If you can give people the evidence that they deserve to be confident then it can add to performance.

"I would love to be able to do that. With England? Of course, that would be amazing.

"But at the same time, if I can work with just one person and have a positive effect, that's good enough to begin with.

"It's a real desire of mine, having played with so many people who have helped me in my career - guys like Matt Catt and Matt Giteau at Toulon.

"I just want to help others get better because I know what a difference it makes to a team.

"To carry on a team ethic from a coaching perspective would be great."

Wilkinson, whether he likes it or not, will be the centre of attention in Cardiff and Paris over the next two weekends, but he is determined not to be deflected as Toulon target European and domestic glory.

"With these two big games, preparation is paramount. It speaks for itself that every second we have together we really need to make the most of," he added.

"We must make sure, having spent so much time and having gone through so much, that we perform and give ourselves the best chance.

"Everything has always felt so damned important anyway. For me, rugby has always been a life or death thing, and I don't think that is going to change coming to the end of it all.

"Having played in two semi-finals (this season) which could have gone either way, you just have to appreciate that every time you walk out on the field it could be the last time.

"You have to forget about tomorrow and the consequences of the performance, you just have to think about the performance itself and understand that if this is the last one it begs the question 'if you're not going to do it now, when are you going to do it?'

"That has been something I have carried with me a lot through my career, just because of my fear of regretting things. The biggest regret being not trying enough or not doing enough, not taking the opportunity or the responsibility.

"I appreciate there are things like that hanging around, but at the same time there is nothing to hold back for.

"The best way to go out, I think, is trying at least to show everything that is good about yourself."