Lions 2013: Jonny Wilkinson opts out because Toulon takes 'priority'

Jonny Wilkinson ruled himself out of the Lions squad because his club Toulon is his "absolute priority".

Wilkinson turned down the chance to tour Australia even though head coach Warren Gatland had offered him a place.

"If Toulon manage to get through to the final of the Top 14 my absolute priority lies with them," the 33-year-old outside-half told The Times.  

"It is, after all, these guys who have got me to the stage where I could even be considered for the Lions."

Gatland had said that all players should be available for the opening tour match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1 June - the same day as the French Top 14 final which Toulon are strong favourites to reach.

Analysis

"It was clear that Wilkinson would have gone to Australia in addition to Farrell and Sexton, rather than in place of one of them. All of which raises more intriguing questions."

"It was a hugely proud moment for me to be called by Warren Gatland, to be told that they were thinking of me in this way," added Wilkinson, winner of 91 caps for England and six for the Lions.

"I was phenomenally proud to be considered for the Lions so it's very disappointing that I'm unavailable."

Wilkinson, who underwent a groin operation in January, also told Gatland he was uncertain his body could cope with the demands of a 10-match tour.

The New Zealander has opted for Ireland's Jonny Sexton and England's Owen Farrell as his two fly-halves, although Wilkinson may still be available as an injury replacement.

Gatland, who announced his 37-man squad on Tuesday, confirmed that in the event of injury to one of the tour party Wilkinson might still join the tour, provided the veteran fly-half was himself in good enough physical shape after a season with Toulon.

Tour manager Andy Irvine told BBC Radio 5 live that he admired Wilkinson's "honesty and integrity" over the matter.

Wilkinson in numbers

  • Won 91 England caps plus six for Lions
  • Second youngest England international at 18 years and 314 days
  • Total of 277 points at Rugby World Cups is 50 more than anyone else
  • Total of 1,246 points is second only to Dan Carter's 1,385 in the history of the sport
  • England won 67 of the 91 Tests Wilkinson played
  • Finished with a record 1,179 points for England

The World Cup-winning former England fly-half had been tipped to tour after a man of the match performance as Toulon beat Farrell's Saracens side in the Heineken Cup semi-finals on Sunday.

But he always looked unlikely to go, with Gatland clear about his desire to have his entire squad on the plane when they fly out on 27 May.

Wilkinson, currently the leading scorer in the French Top 14 this season, is still the second-highest points scorer in Test history on 1,246, despite retiring in 2011.

Wilkinson's Toulon team-mate Gethin Jenkins will travel with the Lions.

The Welsh loose-head prop is leaving the French club at the end of the season and it is understood he will be released for the entire Lions tour by the Heineken Cup finalists.