So Jonny Wilkinson is about to retire. I don’t know why but I have found reading the tributes to him from all over the world and from players who have achieved so much deeply moving. I think the personal feeling of sadness comes from fact that he played such a big part in some of the best experiences of my life. I have been lucky enough to see him play in Twickenham and lucky enough to see him play in Toulon and feel quite lucky to have seen him in his prime. From a fans perspective or rather from my own he symbolised something else.
I will never forget watching him play in Toulon it was against Saracens who he faced last week in the Heineken cup final. It was this game down in Toulon that made me realise the amount of work he does. He kicked off the game and within two phases the ball was kicked by Saracens. Jonny had dropped back catching the ball and then returning it with the boot and chasing his kick. He made the tackle on the catcher was on his feet and made the next tackle. After that ruck Saracens kicked again I don’t know how he had done it but he was already back there and catching the kick. In that game I saw him ruck better than all the forwards, tackle like a monster and If you didn’t know better you would assume there were at least 4 of him on the pitch.
People get all patriotic about St. George but for me Jonny Wilkinson probably symbolises everything good about the English and none of the bad. Even his name is as English as you can get. He is brave beyond his size, he never gives up, he overcomes adversity and he seems too polite and honest to be true. Jonny Wilkinson will always be remembered for “that kick” but he is far more than that he is an example of what it takes to overcome adversity and what it takes to be the best. Pure and simple the message is to be the best you have to commit yourself to it morning, noon and night. In every decision you make and in every moment you train.
I think his intense privacy makes him possibly a bit of an enigma to many of us. In an age of media and public scrutiny of the stars we actually don’t really know anything about him. Apart from what he does on a rugby pitch. This goes someway to make him almost like a comic book superhero whose costume is a rugby kit. We just see him doing his stuff and then he disappears then the next Saturday he is back and doing it all again.
In the Top14 semi-final he is reported to have told his team mates at half time “I’d die for you, get ready to die for me.” You have no doubt that Wilkinson was prepared to put it all on the line to win.
He is painted as a soft spoken superstar but inside that there has to be a desire to win and the ability to make huge sacrifices to do so. There has to be a rod of steel going through you to want to be the best you can be. He has been accused of being boring but the truth is for every maverick who wins a sporting accolade there are the obsessives whose sole commitment to winning is what makes them successful on a consistent basis.
At the end of it all, Jonny Wilkinson is what we want all our heroes to be. He is tough, he is skilled, he is controlled. Above it all he was as dependable as the sun rising and the sun setting.
I will be sad to see him go as It marks the end of an era, the end of an iconic playing career. The Top 14 final is not won and sporting fairy tails are very often crushed. Particularly when a team is in with a chance of spoiling a party. Whatever the outcome, during the Top 14 final tomorrow; I will think about that day in November, 11 years ago, when England lifted the World Cup Final. The expectations of a country on one man’s shoulders and like the superhero films you always knew the hero was going to save the day by defusing the bomb or killing the bad guy. In Wilkinson’s case, kick the ball to win the game. Personally it was the best day of my life and I got to share it with my best friends. For that I will always be grateful.