Right I’m not afraid to say it but this blog is an unashamedly biased one on a British sportsman who when push has come to shove has always produced even under the severest of pressures. Jonny Wilkinson has now played his last ever game of professional Rugby Union, fittingly a victory for his club side Toulon in the final of the Top 14, scoring 15 points in their 18-10 victory over Castres. In my opinion anyway, this stalwart of Rugby Union will be sorely missed.
A man who despite an injury record that would have finished off even the most hardened of sportspeople (let alone rugby players), he has in a career spanning 17+ years won every club competition he has entered in the sport – with last Saturday’s Top 14 victory completing the set. Internationally he has won everything, the only blot being a Lions Tour series victory with defeats in Australia 2001 and New Zealand 2005 – I suppose nobody is perfect. Never the less not many players could say they have achieved what this young man has – with the old adage ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger’ definitely applying to this legend of the game.
From his early days at Newcastle Falcons right up to his final game for Toulon (his only two professional clubs), Jonny Wilkinson has always influenced games, whether with his tactical acumen, deadly place-kicking (actually kicking of any sort) and fearless tackling. Some would say his total commitment to the tackles he made was the reason he got so many injuries, maybe so but that was his style and he was not going to change for anybody and the fact he has managed to stay in the game for so long is testament to his powers of recovery and mental strength. This is the man who after kicking England to victory in the 2003 World Cup final (drop goal on his wrong foot) – he did not play another test for the then World Champions (due to injury) until the 2007 Six Nations where he promptly scored 27 points in a thrashing of Scotland at Twickenham – it was like he had never been away. Comebacks and fighting back from adversity were a regular trademark of his career and that year ended up with an appearance in the World Cup Final of 2007, but alas Jonny could not make the complete miracle comeback as South Africa deservedly beat the Red Rose team in the final.
His time in France has been remarkable, this is the guy that scored all 24 points in England’s 2003 semi-final World Cup win against the French, so you would have thought he was not going to be the most popular man in the country when he signed for Toulon in 2009. Well 5 years on, back to back Heineken Cup victories and a Top 14 triumph later he is arguably the most popular Englishman in the country due to his performances, professionalism and all round manner, he is just a nice guy who despite many setback just gets on with his job, no complaints and is very good at it.
For me Jonny Wilkinson is one of Britain’s, let alone England’s sporting legends. A man who never let himself down on the pitch, has been a gent off it and despite setback after setback always came back seemingly stronger. In my opinion right up there with your Sir Steve Redgrave’s, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson’s, Sir Bobby Moore’s, Dame Kelly Holmes etc. You only know what you had when its gone and Rugby Union will be poorer without Mr Wilkinson and it is now up to others to fill the void.
I salute you Jonny – Winner, Champion, Legend
Let me know what you think – you can also tweet me @biggishmouth or go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth