'My best was yet to come': Jonny Wilkinson says international retirement was down to status, not ability
The England great says baggage that included injuries, his reputation and media coverage affected the team and meant it was time to hang his boots up.
Jonny Wilkinson walked away from his England career because he felt his status was holding back both him and the team.
English rugby's favourite son made the admission as the side he left behind geared up for tomorrow's dead rubber against South Africa.
"I didn't retire because I wasn't capable," revealed the World Cup winner. "In fact the opposite. I felt the best was yet to come and I still believe that.
"I just could no longer find a way with England to get that onto the field consistently enough. It was the most frustrating thing in the world as at the time it didn't make any sense to me.
"I couldn't find the one thing that would allow me to transpose everything I knew I could do, and had been used to doing, into the game.
"I was carrying with me all sorts of baggage from what I'd been through in my career - injuries, highs and lows, my reputation, media coverage, everything.
"Somehow it just got in the way. If I knew exactly how, I'd have tried to unravel it. But it was out of my control.
"Whereas in France now I'm away from all that, it is just about playing rugby and expressing myself like I did before it (my career) went a bit crazy."
Wilkinson, 33, is coming off a campaign in which he was top points scorer in the Top 14 and guided his club Toulon to two major finals.
He ended the season being hailed by his captain Joe van Niekerk as "one of those players who only comes round every 10 years, if that."
His headline status in France contrasts with the diminished player he had become with England before he finally called it quits.
It makes sense to him now he has stepped back from Red Rose duty, leaving behind a Test career which will never be forgotten.
"Seeing the shape of the England team since I bowed out and how positive it is confirms to me that my decision was right," said Wilkinson.
"I look from afar and say to myself 'I don't fit into that group there. With me in that group it didn't work'. They felt obliged to respect me, but it wasn't positive because respect has to be earned."
His swansong was the 2011 World Cup which scarred almost every Englishman involved. But Wilkinson has moved on and so, he acknowledges, has the team.
"Stuart Lancaster has done a great job and should be massively applauded," he said. "They might have lost the series to South Africa but I've been encouraged.
"The spirit and togetherness shown by the guys reminds me of our tour there in 2000, which was a launch pad to some good times.
"There does come a point where you have to go to the next step and beat a world class team away from home. But the way they took such an onslaught last week and found a way to turn it around tells me they're on the brink of something."
And what of England's decision to hand the third Test captaincy to Dylan Hartley, a player with convictions for gouging and biting?
"I think it's maybe Dylan's time," said Wilkinson. Positive to the end, that's Jonny. Except, as he is at pains to point out, for him this is not the end.
As well as continuing to lead Toulon's star-studded backline, he is now eyeing a career in coaching and recently took time out to pay tribute Southwark Tigers coach Vernon Neve-Dunn as a part of Gillette's Great Start campaign, which aims to celebrate coaches and encourage people to get into coaching.
Wilkinson turned up unannounced to support Neve-Dunn in a training session and admitted that while he still wants to improve himself he feels a growing urge to pass on the secrets of his success to the next generation.