Updated: Monday, 19 May 2014 23:13 | By Agence France-Presse

England rugby hero Wilkinson calls time on career

England World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson announced Monday that he will retire as a player at the end of the season after Toulon's European Cup and French Top 14 finals.

England rugby hero Wilkinson calls time on career

A picture taken on November 22, 2003 shows English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson booting the winning a drop goal during the World Cup final against Australia at the Olympic Park Stadium in Sydney - by Odd Andersen

"I would like to take this opportunity to formally announce my retirement from playing rugby," the 34-year-old said in a statement on his club's website.

"I have an enormous number of people to thank for their support from all around the world but especially here in France and in England," Wilkinson said,

"This however is not at all the time to be concentrating on this as I would like to focus all my attention and energy on the team and these final two games of the season."

 The fly-half, most famous for winning the 2003 World Cup for England with an extra-time drop goal against Australia, only ever played for two clubs during his 17-year long career, joining big-spending Toulon from Newcastle in 2009 

He played an integral part in Toulon's rise to the pinnacle of French rugby, but with his 35th birthday fast approaching, his retirement at the end of the season had been widely expected.

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte said that Wilkinson would, however, remain at the club next season in a coaching capacity.

"He said that he wanted to be part of our coaching staff because he did not want to finish off too abrubtly. It's all the better for him and for us because he can help us a lot. He will advise the players on their technical abilities, handling and kicking," he said

Wilkinson won 91 caps for England, and played in a second World Cup final in 2007 when they were beaten 15-6 by South Africa. He scored a total of 1,246 points, second only in the world to the 1,442 of All Black Dan Carter.

He was part of four Six Nations title wins for England with the peak being a Grand Slam under coach Clive Woodward in 2003, the same year England won the World Cup 20-17 in Sydney.

He also won six caps for the British and Irish Lions, but retired from international rugby in December 2011 after the World Cup in New Zealand to concentrate on playing for Toulon.

Wilkinson's distintive kicking style brought him great success and set a new benchmark for perfectionism in rugby which subsequently has been followed by a new generation of place-kickers. 

The final two games of his career will see him wear the colours of Toulon on Saturday in the European Cup final against Saracens in Cardiff and the French Top 14 final against Castres at the Stade de France a week later. 

Wilkinson enjoyed European Cup success with Toulon last year, when he was player of the year at the club, but he has yet to add a Top 14 title to his list of achievements, having played on the losing side in the last two years.   

Of the starting line up for the 2003 World Cup final only Wilkinson and Mike Tindall remain as players although the latter is player/coach at Gloucester and is expected to soon announce his retirement.

Iain Balshaw, who came off the bench in extra-time in the final, is still with Biarritz, newly-relegated from the French top flight.

Former teammates lined up to sing the praises of the man whose boot brought them glory.

Fellow World Cup winner Richard Hill told the BBC: "On the pitch there have been players who have had as big an impact as Jonny, and Jonny would be the first to admit that the World Cup-winning team was about more than one man.

"But in terms of someone who has engaged and captivated such a wide diversity of supporters and non-rugby people, he stands alone."

Flanker James Haskell said that Wilkinson had been instrumental in raising the profile of world rugby.

"There's no way you can escape from it; everything he's done for rugby, the example he's set, the fact that he's kept his feet on the ground through everything," he said.

"He was as big as David Beckham. He put rugby on the map, he won a World Cup for England. He's such an incredibly humble guy and so professional."

Wilkinson has not yet said what he planned to do once his playing career is over, but he has given every indication that he could head into coaching.

"My role is developing," Wilkinson said in February. "I now spend most of the week in training, helping my team-mates approach the game differently. I've accepted that for a long time, but that doesn't change the fact that, deep down, I cannot stop competing."

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