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Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:08 UK

Wilkinson agrees to join Toulon

Jonny Wilkinson
Wilkinson has not played since dislocating his knee in September

England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson will play in France next season after agreeing a two-year deal with Toulon.

Wilkinson is leaving after 12 years at Newcastle, joining fellow Falcons Tom May, Jamie Noon and Ollie Phillips in heading across the channel.

"I hope this will be a springboard to what I see as another five years in my career," said the 29-year-old.

Wilkinson, who had a year left on his Newcastle deal, played just four games last season after dislocating his knee.

Reports state Wilkinson's deal could be worth 700,000 euros (£623,000) a year.

Falcons boss wishes Wilkinson well

Wilkinson has signed a two-year contract with the option to cancel after a year, but said he hoped to re-sign for longer.

"That was my decision because I want to stay in control of my future," he added. "But I would hope and expect it to be a success and for me to re-sign for longer.

"A fresh start is what I need and I'll get it there. I feel like a kid again.

"I've wanted to pay back Newcastle for so long but after a while you have to ask 'Am I achieving that?'

"It had got to the point where I wasn't helped by being around the club. The association of me as an injured, non-playing person had set in and I hated that."

Wilkinson has spent his whole career on Tyneside and Falcons director of rugby Steve Bates insisted there was no ill feeling towards the fly-half.

"Jonny will undoubtedly go down as one of Newcastle's all-time greats," he said.

Philippe Saint-Andre

Report - Toulon excited by Wilkinson coup

"He has contributed an incredible amount to this club over the past 12 seasons, and been an inspirational figurehead for rugby in the north-east.

"Even during the times when his appearances for us were restricted he has always remained a positive presence behind the scenes, and everyone here thanks him for his fantastic service as well as wishing him all the best for his new life over in France."

Wilkinson is expected to be unveiled on 26 May, but Toulon's millionaire president Mourad Boudjellal has already announced the club's squad list for next season which included a number of captures from English, Welsh and Irish sides.

Jonny Wilkinson

Championship legends - Jonny Wilkinson

Sale's Sebastien Bruno, Rory Lamont and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Munster prop Tim Ryan, Bristol flanker Joe El Abd, Saracens back-rower Kris Chesney and Cardiff centre Jamie Robinson were all included in the list as well as Wilkinson's former team-mate May.

Phillips leaves the Falcons to sign for Stade Francais while Brive have captured Noon.

Toulon, who finished ninth in the French Top 14 this season after a campaign battling the fear of relegation, will have ex-French international Philippe Saint-Andre in place as sporting director next season.

And he told BBC Sport: "I think it is huge for French rugby, to sign the biggest star of English rugby.

"It is a fantastic challenge for him and for the club. It has always been a dream, I think, of this club to get Jonny and now we have got him.

"A good team is not just good names on a paper - we have to gel together, to build together, and I know Jonny is excited about playing his part."

Wilkinson, who has 70 caps and 1,032 international points to his name, joins the exodus of English players who have left the Premiership to join the cash-rich French league which includes Riki Flutey, James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Iain Balshaw.

606: DEBATE

The 2003 World Cup winning fly-half has been beset by a number of injuries in the past six years and has not played for England since coming on as a substitute in the Six Nations win over Ireland on 15 March 2008.

England elite rugby director Rob Andrew has already insisted players who move to France must attend all training sessions with the national team in order to be selected.

Henri Bru, Rugby Correspondent for French newspaper L'Equipe, told BBC Radio 5 Live that Wilkinson's arrival will be big news in France.

"He is one of the most well known rugby players in the world along with Jonah Lomu, and maybe the sun of the Riviera will do him a lot of good," he said.

"Club rugby is on a roll in France, the clubs have money and they fill the stadiums."

Wilkinson's debut for Toulon should come on the weekend of 15/16 August when next season's Top 14 campaign kicks off.



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see also
Wilkinson holds talks with Toulon
16 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Wilkinson's Lions hopes receding
12 Apr 09 |  Newcastle
Bates 'assumes' Wilkinson to stay
18 Mar 09 |  Newcastle
Chesney departs in Toulon switch
15 Apr 09 |  Saracens
Lobbe set to quit Sale for Toulon
20 Mar 09 |  Sale
Hooker Azam ponders Toulon move
03 Feb 09 |  Gloucester
Centre Robinson set to quit Blues
05 Mar 09 |  Cardiff Blues
Wilkinson backed to play until 40
20 Nov 08 |  English
England need Wilkinson - Pienaar
23 Nov 08 |  English
Falcons upbeat after Wilkinson op
03 Oct 08 |  Newcastle
Wilkinson suffers dislocated knee
01 Oct 08 |  English
RFU letter concerns player union
18 Mar 09 |  English
Saint-Andre set for French return
26 Jan 09 |  Sale
Toulon agree deal to sign Gregan
22 Mar 07 |  Rugby Union


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