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Sale Sharks

Jason Robinson - then and now
Jason Robinson - then and now

All hail Billy Whizz

As Jason Robinson celebrates his 500th appearance as a professional rugby player against Gloucester on Saturday 8 April, we look back at the career of one of the best rugby players ever to grace either code.

In the beginning

Scoring for Wigan against Leeds in 1995
Scoring for Wigan against Leeds in 1995

It could have been so different. Born in Leeds in 1974, as a young player at Hunslet, Robinson was offered a contract at his home town club.

Thankfully for North-West rugby, he turned them down and remained with Hunslet until Wigan, at the height of their dominance of rugby league, snapped the young star up in 1991.

The Wigan years

He was an instant success. Spurred by his friendship with team-mate Va'aiga Tuigamala, he reformed his wayward tendencies and was named as Young Player of the Year in 1993, the year in which he also makes his Great Britain debut.

Facing Bath in a cross-code game in 1996
Facing Bath in a cross-code game in 1996

His form at Wigan went from strength to strength, climaxing in a brilliant show in the 1995 Challenge Cup Final that saw Wigan romp home a convincing win of 30-10 over, inevitably, Leeds.

His speed, which earned him the nickname Billy Whizz, and his form attracted the attention of the international selectors, and Robinson went on to appear 12 times for the Great Britain side and seven times for England.

Wigan’s record while Robinson was at the club is nothing short of breathtaking. They won the World Club Challenge twice, the Premiership five times, the Challenge Cup four times, the Regal Trophy three times and the Charity Shield twice. It’s little surprise that the winger needed a new challenge.

Joining the Union

The 1996 season brought a change in rugby league, as the birth of Super League moved the sport from a winter to a summer game.

Admiring the Parker Pen Shield in 2002
Admiring the Parker Pen Shield in 2002

Several top players, Robinson amongst them, used the free months to try their hand at the other code. It was long-established union side Bath who won his services for the colder months.

The temptation to try his hand full time proved too much for Robinson and in 2000, he made his code switch permanent, signing for rising stars Sale Sharks. It was a new challenge for the star, who’d scored a massive 184 tries in his 302 league games.

Billy Whizz - England star

Inevitably, Robinson excelled at the 15 man game. Within months of making his debut for Sale, he broke into the international side, making his debut from the bench against Italy at Twickenham in the 2001 Six Nations Championship.

Scoring against Australia in 2003
Scoring against Australia in 2003

Soon, Robinson also made the 2001 Lions tour – wowing the Southern Hemisphere with a series of sensational performances. Domestically, his talents were also impressing, as he helped the Sharks to a runners-up slot in the Premiership and a Parker Pen Shield success in 2002.

His career reached its pinnacle a year later, as he scored a memorable try to help England beat Australia 20-17 in the World Cup final. His performances and the team’s success earn him not only international acclaim, but an MBE in the 2004 New Year's Honours list.

Collecting his MBE in 2004
Collecting his MBE in 2004

As achievements go, it’s one that couldn’t easily be surpassed, but a proud moment was still to come, as Robinson took over from an injured Jonny Wilkinson to become England’s 118th captain.

It was no small achievement when you consider the fact he is the first mixed race player and the first former rugby league player to captain the international side. Sure enough, in his first appearance as captain, he scored a hat-trick of tries in a 70-0 wipeout of Canada.

Farewell to all that

Playing for Sale in 2005
Playing for Sale in 2005

On September 24, 2005 Robinson announced his retirement from international rugby union stating that he wished to spend more time with his family. England’s loss has been Sale’s gain and Robinson goes into his 500th game knowing that the Sharks are closing in on their first ever Premiership title. After the career he’s had so far, who wouldn’t want to see Billy Whizz lifting the trophy?

As for the future, the question is how long he can continue? When asked by the Sale website whether he’d make it to his 600th appearance, his answer was simple and typically modest.

“With the aid of a zimmer, maybe!”

last updated: 05/04/06
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