Johnson anguish as Toulon refuse to release Wilkinson

ENGLAND were dragged into another club versus country row last night after Toulon refused to release Jonny Wilkinson for international duty.

Wilkinson, 31, has been in impressive form for the Top 14 club so far this pre-season and is required to play in their opening league game against Bayonne next Friday.

But that clashes with Martin Johnson’s week-long training camp for the Elite Player Squad, which meets up on Sunday.

Rugby chiefs became embroiled in a row with Toulon’s Top 14 rivals Stade Francais back in March over the availability of flanker James Haskell when the Rugby Football Union refused to release him to play for his club during a week’s break in the Six Nations. Both Haskell and his Stade team-mate Tom Palmer have been selected in this squad and will team up as planned.

The RFU has an agreement in place with all Premiership clubs over player release, but have to negotiate separately with French clubs.

Fly-half Wilkinson will miss Toulon’s friendly, ironically against Stade at the Stade Mayol later today with a shoulder injury, but is expected to be fit and ready for the opening game.

A club statement said that Wilkinson “will respect his contract and will be available for the first game of the Top 14 against Bayonne on 13 August”.

Wilkinson signed for Toulon in May 2009 after 12 years with Newcastle Falcons, and signed a contract extension back in January which will keep him with the Top 14 club until the end of the coming season.

Johnson, meanwhile, is gathering his troops for a pre-season camp ahead of a busy Autumn which sees England play four Tests at Twickenham against New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and South Africa.