RUGBY World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson has urged England centre Manu Tuilagi to put his happiness first when considering a possible big-money move to Toulouse.
England’s insistence on selecting only home-based players would ordinarily preclude Tuilagi from a lucrative transfer to France but his six-month international ban, following a conviction for assault, has encouraged the Top 14 club’s pursuit of the Leicester player.
Wilkinson, who crossed the Channel to spend the final five years of his celebrated career at Toulon, believes the 23-year-old should put an injury-ravaged year and off-field problems to one side when mulling the opportunity to follow suit.
“He deserves that chance to say ‘this is what I want from my life, and this is how I need to live it’,” said Wilkinson, the star of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning side.
“Whatever he does, if it’s to go and compete in France and show what he’s got, then he’ll still have options later in his career to reflect and say ‘what do I want to do?’.
“Time will be important, he needs to take what he has on that front. When you’re injured though you hate missing playing rugby, mentally you can suffer. You've got to give people the freedom to make decisions on what they want and where they want to be.”
England’s domestic-only policy means France-based players Nick Abendanon and Steffon Armitage, the two most recent European Players of the Year, are set to miss out on the first home World Cup, but Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie has defended the stance.
“I think the policy is the right one, we’re all in agreement that it’s the right one,” he said. “It’s been applied in the right way and now we’ve got to focus on who we’ve got.”
The Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday 18 September, when England host Fiji at Twickenham. The final is at the same venue on 31 October.