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Time for Wilkinson to move on?

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Simon Austin | 14:04 UK time, Thursday, 16 April 2009

If Jonny Wilkinson does decide to leave Newcastle at the end of the season, he can't be accused of a lack of loyalty.

The England icon has been a one-club man since making his debut for the Falcons as an 18-year-old centre in 1997.

Some, like former international team-mate Lawrence Dallaglio, have questioned such devotion.

True, Newcastle have also shown great loyalty to a player ravaged by injury, Dallaglio admits. But he says Wilkinson should have been more ruthless and moved on in pursuit of trophies.

Jonny Wilkinson

"Although I was at Wasps for 18 years, if I had ever thought they were not competitive I would have left," Dallaglio said last year.

As it is, Wilkinson has just the 1998 league title - when he was hardly a fixture in the side - and 2001 Tetley's Bitter Cup to show for 12 seasons at Kingston Park.

Former England number eight Dallaglio also questions whether Wilkinson would have suffered so many injuries had he been playing behind a pack more dominant than Newcastle's.

Perhaps this debate can now end, because Wilkinson is "highly likely" to leave Newcastle in the summer, sources close to the player say, and Toulon is his most likely destination.

The French side are undeniably ambitious, as a squad list boasting Jerry Collins, Joe van Niekerk and Sonny Bill Williams attests, but they aren't even sure of their Top 14 status next season.

The club has a reputation for signing big-name stars in the twilight of their careers, such as George Gregan, but it seems a little unfair to characterise Wilkinson as a fading star looking for a big pay day.

After all, he is a few weeks shy of his 30th birthday and Philippe Saint-Andre, who will become Toulon's director of rugby in the summer, believes the player can rediscover his former glories if he stays clear of injury.

Admittedly, that is a big "if" when you consider what has happened to Wilkinson since 2003.

How would a move across the channel effect Wilkinson's international chances? The Rugby Football Union has left its top players in no doubt that they could jeopardise their England chances by moving to France.

A letter from Francis Baron to each member of Johnson's elite squad last month explained that England's coaching simply will not have time to scout matches in France.

Head coach Martin Johnson, who will already have to contend with Wasps trio Tom Palmer, James Haskell and Riki Flutey playing in France next season, is unlikely to welcome Wilkinson joining them.

But is a fit, firing Wilkinson simply too good to ignore?

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