England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, who dropped the extra-time goal which won the World Cup for his country against Australia in 2003, announced his retirement from international rugby on Monday.

Wilkinson, 32, won 91 England caps and played in four World Cups. His aggregate of 1,246 international points is second only to New Zealand's Dan Carter.

I never ever believed that I would be able to give up on this dream which has driven to live, breathe, love and embrace the game of rugby from the earliest days that I can remember, Wilkinson said on his website www.jonnywilkinson.com.

The time has come, however for me to realise that I have gone as far as I can go with this England team and the time is right for other to enjoy the same honour and pride that I have felt over the past 15 seasons.

To say I have played through four World Cups, two Lions tours, 91 international games and a ridiculous number of injuries and other setbacks gives me an incredibly special feeling of fulfilment. But by now I know myself well enough to know that I will never truly be satisfied!

Wilkinson first represented England at the age of 18 in 1998 and quickly established a reputation as a meticulously organised player with an insatiable work ethic and the ability to punish mercilessly any opposing team who infringed in their own half with his unerring left boot.

Unlike a previous generation of outside halves, Wilkinson was also a fearlessly committed tackler and his willingness to play a full part in an increasingly physical professional game undoubtedly contributed to the stream of injuries which disrupted his career after 2003.

In all, Wilkinson suffered 13 separate serious injuries including a dislocated knee cap in October, 2008, which ruled him out for eight months.

TOUR OF HELL

Wilkinson had an early induction into the realities of international rugby when he took part in England's Tour of Hell in 1998 during which they were thrashed by Australia and New Zealand.

He played in the 1999 World Cup but was left out of the side beaten by South Africa in the quarter-finals. He then established himself as the undisputed number one during the 2000 Six Nations championship which England won.

Wilkinson's development into the most feared flyhalf in the world mirrored England's ascent to the top of the rugby tree under innovative coach Clive Woodward and fearsome captain Martin Johnson.

On a pre-World Cup tour in 2003 he scored all England's 15 points in a rare win over New Zealand and played a prominent part in an impressive victory over Australia a week later.

England had made the statement to the southern hemisphere Woodward had wanted, and although they and Wilkinson started slowly at the World Cup in Australia he kicked all his team's 24 points in a rain-drenched semi-final against France.

The final against the hosts in Sydney was an epic encounter, decided by Wilkinson's drop kick with his right foot with the scores tied 17-17. It is still the only time a northern hemisphere side have lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy.

Wilkinson returned home to be feted as a national hero with small boys across the country racing down to their local parks to imitate his painstaking place-kicking style.

He was clearly uncomfortable in the role and the injuries, which kept him out the England side for three seasons, fuelled a natural introspection bordering on the obsessive.

Wilkinson took part in the unsuccessful British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 2005 and recovered from yet another injury, this time to his ankle, to play a full part in England's renaissance at the 2007 World Cup in France, where they lost in the final to South Africa.

Further injuries followed plus a move to France in 2009 to join Toulon. Toby Flood was England's first choice in the Six Nations championship this year but Wilkinson fought back yet again to start in England's unhappy World Cup campaign in New Zealand which ended in a quarter-final loss to France.

Wilkinson's retirement statement encapsulated a man who worked as hard at his chosen sport as any athlete ever.

I will continue to focus ever harder on my goal of being the very best I can be with Toulon, he said. I certainly have no intention of letting this decision change the way that I approach my training and preparations for games.

(Editing by Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)