The word legend is often used to freely in the realms of sport, but it would simply be unfair to describe Jonny Wilkinson as anything other than a Rugby legend. The man with the golden left boot has made the decision to hang up his boots in the international game and has left behind him one hell of a legacy.
‘That night in Sydney’ was the moment that made him worthy of legendary status, even if he being his modest self was a little underwhelmed with his own personal performance. He even rather infamously described his last-gasp, tournament winning drop goal (slotted under enormous pressure with his wrong foot) as a “dead duck”. This lack of interest in self-glorification and personal success is what has made him such an incredible asset to his nation and one of the finest players of all time.
For a man so humble about his abilities and his inspirational character he has amassed some seriously impressive individual achievements. Now we know that he is never to don the red rose again we are left looking back at such examples of his brilliance and the impact he has had upon the world of international rugby. This impact is probably demonstrated most clearly by his incredible tally of 1,179 points from 91 caps which places him second only to Dan Carter on the all-time top scorers list, and a clear leader of England’s own list of top point scorers.
These statistics are beyond impressive in their own right but Wilkinson will know more than most that it could have even more incredible had his body been able to keep pace with his talent. Staggeringly, Wilkinson managed to achieve all that he has in international and domestic rugby having had to endure the most miserable of periods out of the game with multiple serious and not so serious injuries, that in effect wiped out the four years of his career which could well have been his prime.
Between the successful World Cup Campaign in 2003 and the near-miss in the 2007 tournament, Wilkinson was sadly removed from the England international set-up due to such afflictions as a fractured shoulder, a recurrence of the same shoulder injury, an extended recovery period following reparatory surgery on his shoulder, a torn bicep, an upper arm haematoma, removal of his appendix, severe damage to his groin muscles, a torn adductor, torn knee ligaments and a lacerated kidney to name but a few…
We will unfortunately never know just how many points he might have accumulated had he not spent so long in the rugby wilderness or just how good the England side could have continued to be had he been there to contribute and oversee this era as captain. Nevertheless, his achievements are right up there with the all-time greats and this is exactly how he should be remembered in the wake of his international career.
It is plain for all to see that Mr.Wilkinson hasn’t ever quite hit the heights of 2003 again in his playing career but he must be greatly admired for the courage and determination he has continued to demonstrate since the return from his darkest days prior to 2007.
When Jonny returned to the England side as a regular in the 2007 World Cup he helped inspire a quite frankly rather lacklustre troop of players to reach a second consecutive final and very nearly a second triumph on rugby’s greatest stage. His ability to control the game with his metronomic goal-kicking and more often than not immaculate tactical kicking will go down in history and it remained a terrific asset throughout this campaign. It served as a reminder for the world of rugby about just how much they had missed his presence.
Though his game has arguably suffered as a result of his long-term absence in terms of his pace and his adaptation to the ever-evolving way in which rugby is played, his touch of class has remained and as such he has ended his international career as England’s first choice fly-half.
Though the most recent England World Cup campaign was far from successful and wasn’t exactly befitting of Wilkinson’s final bow on the international stage, Jonny himself will be enormously proud that he was still a key player in an England side at the World Cup right up to what has turned out to be the finishing point of his glorious international career.
This retirement doesn’t of course mean the end of ‘Wilko’ as a top class rugby player, and as he has proven since his high profile transfer to Toulon he still has an awful lot to offer. The legs might not quite be what they once were, but his game management is still right up there as is his unrelenting effort and commitment on the pitch. He’s still a pretty handy goal kicker too….
It feels strange to know that Jonny will never play for England again while his domestic career will continue, but there is no doubt that his time as an international rugby superstar will be remembered with enormous fondness. I personally will always remember Wilkinson as England’s iconic number 10, who with his own brand of hard-work, modesty and complete lack of respect for his body (ie- his seemingly unquenchable thirst for pain and self-sacrifice on the field) became the model professional in the world of Rugby.
Thanks for the memories Jonny; a true legend of the game and a national hero to boot. Bring on the Knighthood.