England flyhalf Johnny Wilkinson has joined French Top 14 side Toulon.
Wilkinson, who has been plagued by injuries since 2003, said he hoped the move would prolong his career and give him a crack at challenging for a place with England once more.
‘I have signed for two years with an option to cancel after one year. That was my decision because I want to stay in control of my future, but I would hope and expect it to be a success and for me to re-sign for longer. And I hope that this will be the springboard to what I see as another five years in my career,’ Wilkinson wrote in his Times of London column.
‘I hope it will give me the games to rebuild an international career, too. I haven’t played, for obvious reasons, and so I haven’t figured for England and I want that to change. And because I haven’t had the games, I have just seen a Lions tour slip by.’
He added that he felt he had become a liability at his current club, Newcastle, and that he needed to challenge himself afresh and escape the ‘negative energy’.
‘Why am I going? Because my ambition has long been to get the best out of myself and to help my club and I don’t think I was succeeding in either at Newcastle,’ he wrote. ‘I was the lucky beneficiary of so much patience and support from the Falcons fans and from the medical staff. I thank them all.
‘However, I had become someone who was shaking hands more than I was passing the ball and I haven’t been able to clear my head of the idea that I have been letting people down.
‘I’ve wanted to pay back Newcastle for so long, but after a while you have to ask: am I actually achieving that? It had got to the point where I wasn’t helping by being around the club any more and the association of me as an injured, non-playing person had set in and I hated that. A different club will help me to escape all that negative energy.’
Wilkinson will join new recruits Felipe Contempomi, Rory Lamont, Pierre Mignoni, Laurent Emmanuelli and Sebastien Bruno. Former France international Philippe Saint-Andre will coach the side next season.
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Steve Bates thanked Wilkinson for his contribution to the club.
‘Jonny will undoubtedly go down as one of Newcastle’s all-time greats. 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,’ he said.
‘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.
‘There is naturally a sadness in saying goodbye to someone who has contributed so much to this club, but with our ambitious recruitment here this summer everybody at Newcastle Falcons is really excited about our prospects for next season and beyond.’