‘Wow, I’m delighted to be included’
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning hero tells Gavin Mairs of his pride at being chosen in the Rugby Power 50
With characteristic modesty, Jonny Wilkinson expressed his surprise and honour at being named in third place in the Rugby Power 50, in association with Toshiba, official sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2015.
The hero of England’s World Cup final triumph against Australia in 2003 has never been entirely comfortable with the adulation that he attracted, particularly after his winning drop goal in extra time on that famous night in Sydney.
Yet despite having brought his glittering rugby career to a close in 2014 – he scored a total of 1,179 points for England in 91 games and played in six Tests for the Lions, on the 2001 and 2005 tours – Wilkinson’s influence has not waned.
The former fly-half has moved into a coaching role at his final club Toulon, and he is in his first year as a pundit with Sky Sports. Those roles, and the powerful legacy he left in terms of dedication and commitment to training and playing, meant that the eight judges scored him extremely highly in the five categories that were used to decide the Rugby Power 50: achievement, leadership, innovation, legacy and effectiveness.
“Wow, I am delighted to have been included on the list,” Wilkinson said. “It is nice to be viewed that way. I was hugely influenced myself by everyone else. If I made my list of 50 it would be interesting to see how they would compare.
“I have been influenced by people from inside the professional circuit and also those outside – such as close family members, brothers – up to guys I played with and against and watched on TV. But if people see me that way then brilliant.”
Wilkinson has been an inspiration to many. His singleminded approach to the art of goalkicking, for example, has shown a whole generation what is required to succeed at the top level. But the great man was similarly inspired by others during his career.
“When I joined Newcastle, Inga Tuigamala was a mentor of mine. He gave me one piece of advice. He said: ‘Your reputation is all you will leave behind. It can take for ever to build and it can be destroyed in a second.’
“That is what lasts. Everything we have done in games, people forget about. They tend to have a feeling or remember how you made them feel.”
Not even a spate of serious injuries could dilute his obsession with the pursuit of perfection. And it was not only England fans who appreciated Wilkinson’s prolific goalkicking and thunderous tackling. France, who were twice denied places in World Cup finals by Wilkinson’s semi-final heroics in the 2003 and 2007 tournaments, came to love him too, after his move to Toulon.
While he is still coming to terms with the fact that his playing days
‘Your reputation can take for ever to build – but it can be destroyed in just a second’
are over – he admitted recently to going for a five-hour kicking session – the 36-year-old is sure that rugby will remain central to his life.
“I have said many times that I have been incredibly fortunate. I don’t know quite why people have chosen to support me the way they have. I have had more support now that I have finished than when I was playing and I do like to pay it back any way I can. I am trying to find new ways to do that as I go along.
“Rugby will always be central to my life – but more important will be everything that I have learnt from rugby. It is the values that you learn from playing in a team, and that when the team wins, everyone wins.”
Part of his new commitment has been to act as an unofficial sounding-board for some of the England coaches at the team’s training base in Bagshot, Surrey.
“When I do cross paths with Mike Catt or [England’s other assistant coach] Andy Farrell we tend to chat a bit longer, which is great because I feel quite important as they keep me up to date with how things are going and I feel, ‘whoa, it’s like being involved again’,” Wilkinson says.
As befitting someone at No 3 in the Rugby Power 50, his power and influence are still being felt far and wide across the rugby world.
The final word: Jonny Wilkinson kicks the extra-time drop goal that earned England victory over Australia and the Webb Ellis Cup in Sydney 12 years ago