JONNY WILKINSON has been dubbed “the Michael Jackson of rugby” by the man who is trying to lure the England star to France.
Wilkinson has been linked with a move to French Top 14 side Toulon and he met representatives of the big-spending southerners last month.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal maintains there is still work to be done before Wilkinson’s signature is secured but he feels it would be a major coup if the player was enticed over.
Boudjellal even went as far as comparing the 2003 World Cup-winning fly-half to pop star Jackson.
“If we manage to get this player, it will be something enormous,” Boudjellal said.
“He is a sort of Michael Jackson of rugby. He is an unbelievable player.”
Philippe Saint-Andre, who will be Toulon’s director of rugby next season, revealed yesterday his future employers remain in talks with Wilkinson about a possible move.
The former France star said: “Jonny’s people are in talks with the Toulon chairman.
“I would obviously like to have as many good players as possible next season and Jonny is a top-quality player.”
Wilkinson, 29, has suffered a string of injuries since kicking England to World Cup glory five and a half years ago, the latest being a dislocated knee he sustained while playing for Newcastle against Gloucester in September.
But Boudjellal dismissed any suggestion Toulon are taking a major risk in trying to sign Wilkinson.
“When you sign a player, zero risk does not exist. For next season, Wilkinson has as much chance of getting injured as any other player.
“When you take on a player, he hurts himself or he doesn’t hurt himself. It is always 50/50 and in life it is the same. Sure there is a risk.”
French clubs are not under the same financial constraints as Guinness Premiership sides and have proved an attractive proposition for out-of-contract players in recent years.
Toulon already have the likes of Jerry Collins, Tana Umaga, Joe van Niekerk and Sonny Bill Williams on their books, thanks to millionaire Boudjellal. Accepting the club’s overtures may yet have an impact on Wilkinson’s hopes of an international recall, though, after the Rugby Football Union made their concerns about England players leaving the country known following the simultaneous departures of James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Riki Flutey from Wasps.
Wilkinson is no longer in the RFU’s elite playing squad due to his injury woes but the current party were all contacted by chief executive Francis Baron outlining the potentially harmful effect of abandoning the domestic game.
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