WORLD CUP hero Jonny Wilkinson has admitted he feared his playing days were over due to the injuries he picked up helping England to glory in Australia.
The fly-half has since played just over 50 minutes of rugby for Newcastle as a result of the neck and shoulder problems sustained Down Under last November.
But he has been training with the Zurich Premiership side for some time and has been given the all-clear from his medical team to take a full part in pre-season, including contact work.
The 25-year-old said: "I did not realise how close I came to not playing again.
"If the strength had not come back, I realise there was nothing I could do about it. Without doubt, one little injury has changed my life.
"It has made me more aware of how fragile and vulnerable we are, especially me, after going into all those hits thinking that I was invincible."
Wilkinson appears to have made a full recovery after undergoing neck surgery in February, though, and has vowed not to curtail his tough-tackling style.
"That won't be affected. I know I haven't got a bad neck any more and that is the first time I have been able to say that since I was 14," he added.