‘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

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - No 3 Jonny Wilkin­son

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

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