Top 14 taught Wilkinson to love rugby again

Toulon and England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson says that he has never been happier and that he feels reinvigorated by the French Top 14 after the years he suffered through injury after injury ruined his love for the game.

The 31-year-old Wilkinson was ravaged by injuries after kicking the winning drop goal in England’s 2003 World Cup final against host Australia.

The list included shoulder surgery, knee damage, appendix removal, a hernia operation and lacerated kidney, which made him miss the better part of three seasons, but now he feels totally free in body and mind.

“I’m a different player now. I’ve changed,” he told the website of sports daily L’Equipe on Saturday.

“I had to develop new things to adapt to the Top 14. It’s an extremely positive challenge and I’m enjoying it again.”

Wilkinson has settled well in the south of France and was in great touch again on Saturday, kicking 14 points to help Toulon beat Ospreys 19-14 in the Heineken Cup.

Playing in a different league has caught his imagination again.

“For a long time, rugby just meant fighting against injuries and this media pressure, the weight of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups,” he said.

“It wasn’t rugby anymore, but maybe just work. It was a question of survival and not of feeling the rugby.”

Wilkinson is the leading point-scorer in international rugby with 1,178 for England and the British and Irish Lions, and inspired England to reach the 2007 World Cup final, which it lost to South Africa.

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