Jonny Wilkinson retires from England duty

Jonny Wilkinson
Wilkinson is England's all-time leading scorer with 1,179 points

England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has retired from international rugby union.

The 32-year-old won 91 England caps, kicked the winning drop-goal in the 2003 World Cup final and played six Tests for the British and Irish Lions.

"It fills me with great sadness, but I know I have been blessed in so many ways to have experienced what I have with the England rugby team," he said.

Despite a career plagued by injury, Wilkinson is England's all-time leading scorer with 1,179 points.

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Wilkinson one of the greats - Woodward

The Toulon back is second on the all-time list with 1,246 Test points, placing him just behind New Zealand's Dan Carter.

Wilkinson's record for his country includes six tries, 162 conversions, 239 penalties and a record 36 drop-goals. His total of 277 points at World Cups is 50 more than any other player.

"I never ever believed that I would be able to give up on this dream which has driven me to live, breathe, love and embrace the game of rugby from the earliest days that I can remember," he told his official website.

"Playing the game, representing the team, giving my all and never letting go has meant everything to me. I do, have done and always will believe that I am very capable of performing and thriving at any level of the sport.

The fly-half made his England debut at the age of 18 and went on to play in four World Cups, with his defining moment coming in the final of the 2003 tournament when his drop-goal 17 seconds from the end of extra-time secured England a 20-17 win over Australia.

But the then Newcastle fly-half's career was blighted by injuries and at one stage Wilkinson played barely 15 hours' competitive rugby in 18 months as a succession of injuries took their toll.

His extraordinary determination enabled him to overcome them and he fought back to help England reach the final of the 2007 World Cup.

Rejuvenated after moving to play his club rugby with Toulon, Wilkinson made his last England appearance against France in the quarter-final of this year's tournament in October.

"To say I have played through four World Cups, two Lions tours, 91 international games and a ridiculous number of injuries and other setbacks gives me an incredibly special feeling of fulfilment," he added.

"But by now I know myself well enough to know that I will never truly be satisfied. It goes without saying that I would like to wish Stuart Lancaster [interim England head coach], his coaches and the England squad every bit of success available to them.

"I would also very much like to extend those wishes to Martin Johnson, Brian Smith, Mike Ford, John Wells, Graham Rowntree and the rest of the England 2011 World Cup management team who have been fantastic, and deserve people to know that.

"For me now, I will continue to focus ever harder on my goal of being the very best I can be with Toulon Rugby Club and continue to embrace and enjoy wherever that path takes me."

Lancaster, who has been appointed as England's interim head coach for the Six Nations, paid a glowing tribute to Wilkinson.

"Jonny has had a fantastic international career which has spanned four World Cups and 91 caps, and ranks as one of England's greatest ever players," he commented.

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Wilkinson an inspiration - Moody

"He will, of course, be remembered for that drop-goal. But he is more than that, a model sportsman - down to earth and hard-working - who has never stopped trying to be the best that he can.

"Everyone who has played with, coached and watched Jonny play should feel privileged to have had an involvement with him.

"Not only has he been a world-class player, but he has inspired thousands to play and watch the game of rugby.

"He will continue to do great things with Toulon, and I would like to go and see him in France to learn from his vast knowledge and experience of 13 years at the very top of the international game."

Former England team-mate Mark Cueto said: "You've just got to look at the likes of Matthew Tait, who I played with at Sale for three years and who grew up with Wilko at Newcastle, and the qualities they learned from him.

"He was always striving to better himself. He couldn't have done any more with the England team, winning the Grand Slam in the Six Nations and then going on to win a World Cup and for so many players it would be easy to relax after that.

"But the more he achieved, the harder he worked and that's an unbelievable attribute to have."

Lewis Moody, who played alongside Wilkinson in the World Cup-winning team and only announced his own retirement from England duty in October, said: "I'm humbled to have played alongside him.

"I'm saddened but his contribution over the years, his work ethic, professionalism and commitment, has been immense. He put everything into what he did. It was incredible to watch him train and perform.

"The fact he missed four years of international rugby but still amassed 97 caps is unimaginable. It's a real shame he's decided to retire but what he's given to the sport, and a generation, is immense."

Former England centre and BBC pundit Jeremy Guscott told BBC Sport: "He was world class, the best in his position, and when he dropped that goal to win the World Cup for England he became immortalised.

"His performances were never less than the best he could deliver, he was a very talented player and England were fortunate to have him."

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