The veteran defender, who had played just nine minutes as a substitute prior to Sunday because of a hamstring injury, set up the game's only goal while also helping secure her country's third clean sheet of the tournament Sunday as Canada downed Switzerland 1-0 to advance to the quarter-finals.
"She's just a great Canadian," head coach John Herdman said of Wilkinson. "You know she's going to give you everything. There's not much that's going to run through her mind in a game other than tackle, pass, get the ball back. That's what I thought she brought — a real energy."
Wilkinson slotting into her familiar right back position meant that Josee Belanger returned to her natural forward position after starting the three group games in defence. Wilkinson sent a looping cross into the Swiss box early in the second half that captain Christine Sinclair directed to Belanger, who cooly buried a left-footed effort to send the crowd of 53,855 at B.C. Place Stadium into a frenzy.
"It's been a frustrating road to recovery, but I really have to give credit to Josee," said Wilkinson. "Anyone who has played a sport as a forward who has been thrown into the defensive line, it's not an easy thing to do and it's frightening. She played so well.
"Me coming in is just a way to get (Belanger) closer to the net. As you see, you get that girl close to the net, she gets goals."
While Wilkinson might want to deflect the credit sent her way, teammates have come to expect that type of service down the right-hand side, which was a big part of Canada's success in winning bronze at the 2012 Olympics.
"That's just something that Rhian brings to our team," said Sinclair. "Her deliveries into the box are first-class."
Apart from her play going forward, Wilkinson, a 33-year-old from Pointe-Claire, Que., was part of a defence that shut down Swiss strikers Ramona Bachmann and Lara Dickenmann and has surrendered just one goal through four games at the tournament.
"I cannot give enough compliments to the backline," said Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod. "Everyone in the backline has been phenomenal this whole tournament. (I'm) especially proud of Rhian Wilkinson ... she was phenomenal for us.
"It makes my job a lot easier."
Herdman was pleased his players responded after a less-than-stellar first half against the Swiss and pointed to Wilkinson's performance as one to build on as Canada awaits the winner of England-Norway in the quarters.
"She came alive in the second half," said the coach. "I think she knew what she had to do for her country, and she did it. We challenged the girls prior to this game that at some moments key players are going to have to step up and she did.
"I was proud of her today."