Top 14

Oval Talk: Loyalty at a price?

Share this with
Share this article

Jonny Wilkinson - Toulon

Image credit: Imago

21/09/2009 at 09:41

It is only after making an instant impression in the Top 14 that is seems likely that Jonny Wilkinson’s renowned loyalty to Newcastle may have cost him several seasons of top flight rugby.

England's 2003 World Cup hero has been hogging the headlines since his summer move to Toulon, and rightly so judging by his performances for the cash-rich club and huge popularity in the rugby-mad city.

The fly-half has been in excellent form, both on and off the pitch.

Top 14

Clermont steal dramatic late win

28/09/2012 AT 21:49

Last weekend the 30-year-old guided Toulon to an 18-13 victory over south west giants Toulouse, scoring all his team's points, while his dedication to learning French and desire to embrace the local culture has endeared him further to the Toulon faithful.

One quarter of the way into the French league season, and Toulon lie third in the Top 14 standings and Wilkinson third in the individual points-scoring charts.

Wilkinson is clearly enjoying life, and if he can remain injury free - a huge caveat given his medical record - then he will surely be one of the first names on England manager Martin Johnson's team sheet for the November internationals.

Obviously there is no guarantee Wilkinson will avoid the injury misery that afflicted him at Newcastle - and consequently deprived England of his services for long periods - but OT can't help feeling the temperate climes of southern France are better suited to his needs than the less-than-welcoming winters at Kingston Park.

And here in lies the question: would Wilkinson have avoided some of the injuries he suffered - whether through luck or design - if he had not dedicated the first 12 years of his career to Newcastle?

Of course Wilkinson's chances of remaining injury-free at Toulon will come down to much more than just the improved climate in which he now plies his trade, but every game he completes for his new club spells good news for England fans.

Lawrence Dallaglio on more than one occasion questioned the wisdom of Wilkinson's loyalty to the Falcons, stressing that his former international team-mate needed to put his personal needs first, especially after spending so many years in the North of England.

Okay, so Dallaglio was mostly referring to Wilkinson's right to try and accumulate trophies in the club game, but it already appears that a change of scenery has benefitted the fly-half's overall well-being.

Also contributing to Wilkinson's improved fortune could be director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre's game-plan - maybe better designed to protect his points-machine - Toulon's conditioning staff, and the fact that Wilkinson, surrounded by other 'star' players, may not feel the same weight of responsibility for the club's fate.

And, dare we say it, Wilkinson may also have decided to be more prudent with his renowned defence, better selecting when and how to put his body on the line.

Wilkinson's fearless approach to tackling has been a weapon for club and country since his introduction to top-flight rugby, but there's little point him smashing into anything that moves in the 10 channel if it leaves him unable to do what he does best - accumulate points.

Toulouse fly-half Frederic Michalak remembers Wilkinson only too well from their international clashes, and praised his opposite number after three penalties and as many drop goals helped secure victory for Toulon.

"He is without doubt back to his best level - each time he came into our half he scored points. It's important to have someone like that in your team,” Michalak said graciously.

In a recent interview, Johnson was unable to find a word to best describe Wilkinson's unique dedication to rugby, a dedication that also encompassed his loyalty to Newcastle during his years in the Premiership.

Yet it also seemed to have a price, and perhaps it is only now that Wilkinson can reflect back and admit that he should have changed his environment sooner.

Top 14

Vainikolo swaps Gloucester for France

04/01/2012 AT 18:25
Top 14

D-day looms for Henson

29/04/2011 AT 22:21
Related Topics
RugbyTop 14
Share this with
Share this article

Latest News


Super Rugby Fixtures


Latest Videos


Owen Farrell ‘proud of England’ despite World Cup final defeat


Most popular


When Nadal got annoyed by a baby - Roland-Garros 2019

View more