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Devoted Wilkinson was a unique talent

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Alastair Eykyn | 06:53 UK time, Tuesday, 13 December 2011

So it's goodbye Jonny. English rugby is much the poorer for his departure but the time had come and the time was right.

The new coaching team of Stuart Lancaster, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell need to focus on the next World Cup in 2015 and finding the next Jonny Wilkinson. The search will not be easy. Wilkinson is a once-in-a-generation player.

He will forever be remembered for the drop goal - off his wrong foot - that brought England their first World Cup that famous November night in Sydney 2003. But he offered his country so much more than just a great kicking game.


Wilkinson practised and practised to master his craft. Photo: Getty

At his peak, not only was he the outstanding goalkicker of his generation, but he was the best distributor of the ball in world rugby, his offensive tackling was outstanding for a fly-half and he was blessed with the calmest of temperaments.

When England were playing their best rugby in the build-up to the 2003 World Cup, Wilkinson was playing his best rugby. It was no coincidence.

From an early age, he had been earmarked as something special and he was different to the rest of the young thrusters of his era.

From his earliest days as a rugby professional, Wilkinson stretched the boundaries of dedication to new levels. His lengthy kicking practices are legendary. No-one put more time in to perfect their craft. No-one showed the intense motivation he showed.

The dark, windswept expanses of Kingston Park in Newcastle provided the young number 10 with his playground. Or his torture chamber, depending on which way you look at it.

If kicking a rugby ball was what Wilkinson was born to do, then he turned himself into a mightily impressive all-round international fly-half. His passing was outstanding and his defence was worthy of the highest class of flanker.

Cast your mind back a few years to when his shoulder was in full working order and he was scything players down in midfield with a well-timed hit.

I will never forget one particular moment at the Stade de France in the Six Nations when the rangy Emile N'Tamack was weaving a path through heavy traffic and beginning to gain some serious momentum. Wilkinson appeared from nowhere and, with a momentum and timing all of his own, cut the winger in half.

You could hear the whole stadium wince at the impact. You expect this from muscle-bound back rowers. It was far from normal to see it from a fly-half.

His bravery and relish in defence caused problems, of course. Matt Dawson, a World Cup-winning team-mate of Wilkinson's and a BBC Radio 5live commentary colleague, was forever shouting at him to get out of rucks and concentrate on standing at first receiver, ready to dictate the next play.

Wilkinson's willingness to put his body on the line certainly caused him problems, as numerous "stinger" injuries and worse afflicted him over the years. Similar to the ever-reckless Lewis Moody, Wilkinson had little regard for his own safety.

Wilkinson's debilitating injuries also defined him. Or rather, the manner in which he set about denying the toll on his limbs defined him. He repeatedly refused to allow his ailing shoulders, neck, knees or groin to get him down and count him out.

In the period immediately after the 2003 World Cup, he suffered more than most players might expect in an entire career. Yet back he came, displaying astonishing resilience time after time, reclaiming the English number 10 shirt on each separate occasion.


Wilkinson lies injured during the 2003 World Cup semi-final against France. Photo: Getty

In the eulogies that follow his international retirement - and this is another - his failings will be largely overlooked. He was not perfect, though he constantly sought perfection.

Wilkinson was never lightning quick, never a player to strike fear into the opposition defence on the gain line. His running was characterised by a scuttling, stuttering style. Occasionally he would jink his way in and out of tackles, but his remarkable talents lay largely elsewhere.

Those who played with him a lot at international level will tell you that his game management was not his chief strength either. This may surprise a few, but Wilkinson was the executor of the strategy, not the mastermind.

His best rugby came alongside those with the vision and communication skills to direct him - the likes of Dawson, Will Greenwood and Mike Catt. They were his eyes and ears. More often than not, he implemented what they suggested. It proved a priceless ability.

Across the entirety of his 91 caps and 1,179 points for England, the additional 67 for the British and Irish Lions, the Grand Slam and the four World Cups, Wilkinson has been the most committed and humble of international sporting stars.

He was - and will remain, for his French club Toulon - all about preparation and dedication; the very epitome of professionalism.

As a role model, he is second to none. He is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary talent who gave a nation their happiest rugby moment. For many, it remains their happiest rugby memory. There is sadness in knowing that such a special performer will never again grace the grandest of stages.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Total legend and undeniably one of the greatest players ever.

  • Comment number 2.

    I saw JW play at Twickenham in the 1999 RWC v Italy, and he was a machine.

    Totally committed to everything he did, a real sporting role model, someone who reached the highest highs without having to resort to 'questionable' tactics, he provided something for young people to aspire to.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank him wholeheartedly for his long years of service to not only England, but the game or rugby in general.

  • Comment number 3.

    Cheers Jonny,

    Thanks for the memories and for that drop goal. A true England legend.

  • Comment number 4.

    He's taken a lot of flack over the years, and has always come out fighting. A true professional and a genuinely nice guy, seemingly unchanged by fame and fortune. I hope English rugby finds a way to keep him involved, but most of all I hope he can enjoy the last stage of his career - although I get the feeling he'll be playing for another 4 or 5 years at least. I always smile when I see that every modern young kicker has a special routine and their own version of the Jonny squat, he made them see that through dedication they could be so much more.

    Thanks for the memories Jonny.

  • Comment number 5.

    Consummate professional, fantasic servant to English Rugby. True role model.

  • Comment number 6.

    'Total legend and undeniably one of the greatest players ever'
    I agree he was legendary, but one of the greatest ever... I don't think so.
    He could tackle, kick both tactically and place kick, fabulous ball distributor, but his only blemish was his running with ball in hand. I wish he ran more, as reflected in his 7 test tries.

  • Comment number 7.

    Never leave England without a Jonny.

    A true great of the game and a down-to-earth bloke.

    Never forget his hit on Fabien Pelous in RWC 07 semifinal which retired the lock, absolutely brutal.

  • Comment number 8.

    A true sporting hero. Thanks Jonny.

  • Comment number 9.

    At his peak JW was an outstanding and brave fly half, and one of the best place kickers of all time (if not the best). He was not, however, at any time in his career even close to being "the best distributor of the ball in world rugby". I'm, afraid that sentiment has got the better of you there. If he had been, England might have attempted to cultivate something that resembles an expansive form of playing at some point.

  • Comment number 10.

    Certainly Johnny Wilkinson was as dedicated a sportsman as I have ever seen. He worked tirelessly on his kicking and became 'the difference' between winning and losing for his club sides and England on numerous occasions.The rest of his game however never got beyond average and of course he has bowed out on a terrible low after the world cup.I struggle to rate him as a 'great' because he was a 'one-trick pony' at the end of the day but he gave us some fabulous memories.He will be remembered I think in the same vein as Geoff Hurst rather than George Best,good at what he did and he did it on the biggest stage rather than universally regarded as fantastic but hey? Who wouldn't settle for that! Thanks for memories then JW. Happy retirement.

  • Comment number 11.

    Legen...............wait for it...................dary!

  • Comment number 12.

    So many great moments in his career - legend!

    The tributes pouring in for JW on the same day that Danny Care is arrested for being drunk and disorderly really shows the difference in class and commitment between 03 and now!

  • Comment number 13.

    Still remember being sat in the bar in Huddersfield RUFC watching the 2003 RWC final, already having called our opponents to say our bus was setting off late once it hit extra-time. Thank you Jonny for giving all you and your body had to England rugby, thank you for being an inspiration to countless people like me and thank you for THAT moment. Let's hope we find someone fit-enough to lace your boots very soon...

  • Comment number 14.

    When at his best pre 2003 RWC he was very very good despite all the talk about not being the complete package, sadly injury robbed him and us of what would have been his best years and he was never really the same but he gave everything to the game and was a lynchpin of England's revival and I am very sad that I wont see one last great performance .Thanks Jonny you are the man.

  • Comment number 15.

    To his real fans, and I am one, this is a sad day. Jonny Wilkinson remains a great player. Some of the people, especially in the press eulogising him now have also been fierce critics of some of his performances, often incorrectly in my view. Jonny has paid a price for his celebrity and success, and has had to struggle with others views of him. But through all this, and of course horrendous injuries he has continued to deliver great things on the pitch. Not a great runner some say, his strengths in other areas its mentioned. Just look at his game time for Newcastle, England, and Toulon. Jonny has made his share of breaks and runs. Of course this may have been overshadowed by other areas of his game, just because he was so good.He is a truly unbelievable rugby player, with a laser passing ability, acute tactical awareness, rock solid defence and of course legendary kicking. More than this he embodies a lot of what is good about rugby as a game.
    Jonny has been and remains a hero to a lot of people, and its humbling to see how he deals with that pressure, seeing through the celebrity but still dealing with the genuine fans with respect and generosity.
    Jonny deserves the massive success he has achieved and will continue to achieve. He has always given his all to the cause of his teams. His boots will be big ones to fill.
    I for one and there are many many more wish him continued success at Toulon in the coming years.

  • Comment number 16.

    An absolute generational sporting idle. Crazy as it is to suggest of someone who achieved the pinnacle of his sport and was recognised as the sports personality of the year following the 2003 WC, I think he was still cut short of some of the best years of his career (24 to 28). The measure of the man is that he had more season/ career threatening injuries than the majority of his team mates put together and yet he came back as resilient as ever.

    He would have got my vote for the sports person of the decade last year. Everyone is quick to define his whole career into one drop goal that happened when he was 23. As this article intimates, the 2 or 3 years when England were dominating world rugby was when Johnny was at his best. I think that's how I would remember him - the greatest England team was not great without JW!

  • Comment number 17.

    @ oldwoodman
    'one trick pony' please he could kick with both feet, tackle like a deamon, pass the ball so fast and accurate, rarely missed a kick at goal and is a massive inspiration to his teammates and millions of professional and social rugby players in england and around the world.
    yes after 2002 england played a much more retricted game but that was not down to his game management or lack of abitily just a response to falling at the final hurdle in the 6N.
    Now i am not having a go but felt that was a unfair comment on a blog giving tribute to ONE of the greatest player ever in world rugby.

  • Comment number 18.

    #12 - agreed!

  • Comment number 19.

    Having once seen him in the flesh, practicing in the rain at Newcastle when everyone else was watching from the bar, I have nothing but admiration for Jonny Wilkinson. He practiced for two hours, kicking to a catcher who never had to take more than one step to collect the ball. It was like watching a metronome.

    To break into the England team when still a teenager was a remarkable achievement. Who says that England never give young players a chance? He was never the fastest, or the smartest fly-half around, but he had a portfolio of skills, allied to courage and a cool temperament that made him the best in the business for quite a few years. Injury and maturity actually dulled his talents a little, but he remained a class-act to the end.

    He was sometimes on the receiving end of the usual irrational antipathy reserved for the England rugby team. I once sat with a group a Scots watching a Calcutta Cup game, who seethed with resentment throughout and couldn't restrain the expletives when JW had the ball. The only explanation that I could get was that he was "good", he was "English" and that he was also the type of guy that you wish your daughter would bring home. There was nothing to dislike and this caused what the shrinks call "cognitive dissonance". It enraged them all the more...which was/is hilarious!

    What now? Some of the physios say that, despite the injuries, he remains in amazing physical shape and is said to be the fittest player at Toulon. He could play club rugby for another four years if he wants. If you picked an England squad tomorrow he would most certainly be in it...which leads to a final point. Much has been said already about Wilkinson the team player and consummate professional. I suspect that he realises that England need to regroup and rebuild through new, younger players and has deliberately put himself beyond selection in order to help that process. He has saved the selectors a headache and saved the management a future, media driven, disingenuous spat!

    That being said, I'd take a small bet that we haven't quite seen the last of him in an England shirt. It would only take a few injuries to the younger lions. Never say never!

  • Comment number 20.

    The measure of any sportsman is what he or she achieves.

    Wilkinson has, quite simply, achieved everything that he could in his international career. The only exception is a winning Lions tour but they, I am afraid to say, are rare in the sport anyway!

    There is still the odd dissenting voice about the flair of Wilkinson but that must be bourne out of bias. To those individuals lets just point out the facts from the Wilkinson golden era of RWC 2003. The fly half who was acknowledged for his "flair" at that tournament was Carlos Spencer. I would ask any Kiwi right now if they would have preferred Carlos, no disrespect, or Johnny in that semi-final against Oz?

    Wilkinson has made the right decision for himself at this point of his life. He owes his country nothing more and now it is time to enjoy his rugby whilst he still can. Bless you!

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh I do go on! A final point! If you ask around the mini's section of any English rugby club, who do the boys want to be like? Do they want to be Ben Youngs or Ben Foden? Do they even want to be Toby Flood?

    Nine times out of ten they still want to be like Jonny Wilkinson. Now that's a legacy!

  • Comment number 22.

    If this doesn't make the hairs on any Englisman's neck stand up again after over 8 years then nothing will:

  • Comment number 23.

    Quite simply, thank you Jonny.

  • Comment number 24.

    To Holden, Thanks for this, just read it a fitting tribute, very well written.

  • Comment number 25.

    Even though I'm welsh,I've got huge respect and admiration for Wilkinson. In his prime,he was somebody I wished at times was in the welsh team. Great competitor,great ambassador,and a ferocious tackler! Even after his numerous injuries,I've looked on in disbelief at the way he threw himself at players twice his size,without any regard for his own body,and in situations that really didn't merit that level of commitment,but that was the measure of the man. The moment that stands out for me isn't his winning DG in the 2003 WC (obviously),but of when England played Italy a while ago in Twickers,Jonny kicked off,a young and fiery Bergamasco caught the ball and headed upfieldd looking for English blood,only to be smashed in half by your's truly.Awsome.

  • Comment number 26.

    To anglophile, I witnessed his first come back game for Toulon. He had been out for a very long time, and came back in a freindly, kicked a couple of penalties and went off at half time. You sensed the relief at having got off the field without another injury. Before long he was playing regularly, and the effect of game time, full training gave him back hisn strength and speed and confidence. As I said earlier he is still a great, great time.

  • Comment number 27.

    He was an absolute legend and will be greatly missed. I think the greatest shame in his career was the ridiculous length of unlucky injuries. He would be out of sight of Dan Carter had he been more fortunate.

  • Comment number 28.

    Total legend!

    Nothing can take that away from him. What he acheived is quite smply staggering, with all the knocks and set backs he had, tocome back time and time again is amazing.

    This article hits the nail on the head. Wilko in recent years has performed underpar by the lack of a Greenwood or Catt to work along side him.

    We need more stars like hm who are an example on and off the pitch. I hope he finds a way to keep conributing to English Rugby. Toulon are a lucky club.

    To those who say he is a "one trick pony", you obviously didn't read the blog. And those who say he is not one of the greatest........then who was better for such a long time? The man did something right to score so many points!

  • Comment number 29.

    Sorry great, great player I meant to write. I just hope that Toulon will now be able to reach their potential and achieve success aswell.

  • Comment number 30.

    You're welcome pascoty. That article says everything we all feel about Jonny. Road trip to Toulon anyone? ;-)

  • Comment number 31.

    #21 - Anglophone:
    "If you ask around the mini's section of any English rugby club, who do the boys want to be like? Do they want to be Ben Youngs or Ben Foden? Do they even want to be Toby Flood?

    Nine times out of ten they still want to be like Jonny Wilkinson. Now that's a legacy!"

    Absolutely hit the nail on the head there!

    And to OldWoodman (#10): To say that he will be remebered more of a Geoff Hurst rather than a George Best - what sort of comparison is that? Jonny was one of the architects of Englands RWC win, not a lone striker on the end of a speculative pass. His talent in his field was at least the equal of Best's however Best ended his career and life as a drunken sot, a shadow of a man who was frequently ridiculed. Can you see that happening to Jonny? Who would you rather your son emulated?

    There's probably only one player today who might de-throne Jonny as the greatest ever, both on and off the field: Dan Carter - but who was his role-model?

  • Comment number 32.

    'Outstanding goal kicker of his generation'? Surely some mistake, by my calculations his international career overlapped Neil Roger Jenkins by 5 years.

    Fair play, outstanding model professional, although I would have expected him to kick on when he returned. Instead I think he proved just what great players he had around him in 2003. (Admittedly he did drag England kicking and screaming to the final in 2007 but there have been howlers along the way too.)

    Good luck to him in Test retirement and I hope he gets plenty more years at Toulon.

  • Comment number 33.

    A true legend of rugby union! The perfect 10 who gave everything in attack and defense, Must get a knighthood for his services to sport. Thanks for everything Johnny!!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Jonny epitomised everything that has been great about the more modern era of professionalism in the game of rugby. He forever struck a fine balance of complete respect for his body (in terms of his off-field dedication and conditioning), and a complete lack of respect for his body (in terms of his seemingly unquenchable thirst for pain and self-sacrifice on the field).

    "That night in Sydney" will of course be his indelible mark left on the game but it would be grossly unfair if this was the only significant memory of Wilkinson's time as an international superstar.

    He is an absolute hero and deserves to be remembered for his love of representing his country and the incredible dedication he always gave to the cause. In his pomp he was the best, and even after all his horrendous struggles with injury he was still right up there.

  • Comment number 35.

    I'm Welsh and JW made me stand up and cheer for England in 2003. Dropping a goal off his weaker foot to win the World Cup against the Aussies in their own back yard - tests of character and technique don't get any bigger. Great player, true champion.

  • Comment number 36.

    Jonnny Wilkinson, the only English rugby player in my time to provoke this level of sentiment, passion and emotion.
    A pleasure to have followed through the ups and downs, without those 4 missed years we could have broekn world records all over the place.
    All the best big fella, give em hell

  • Comment number 37.

    Tremendous player, still think in the warm up games against Wales, (the one England won) he was the difference between the two sides

    Even at the tail end of his career we could see he was special

    An absolute study in effectiveness...

  • Comment number 38.

    Extraordinary man? Slightly hyperbolic?

  • Comment number 39.

    Read through all the comments just waiting for the nay-sayer who, apart from #32 who tried but couldn't quite manage to bring himself to rubbish Jonny, has not turned up.

    Everyone, including Jonny himself, will admit that there have been dark times but these have been dazzled into insignificance by the career highlights of this incredible professional.

    It is a testament to greatness that all nations come together to salute you JW.

  • Comment number 40.

    Damn!! #38 got in there whilst I was typing! Curse you, boils!

  • Comment number 41.

    Yet more revisionist historians on here. Jonny Wilkinson is a great of the game. He was simply brilliant. Those criticising his distribution in particular are just showing their ignorance. He was always a more complete player than his mentor Rob Andrew. He didn't make great line breaks or have great vision, but any critique beyond that is ill-informed.

    Jonny had a career untroubled by injury up until 2003. By 2003 he was widely regarded as the best rugby player in the world, for all of the reasons stated, including inch-perfect distribution. Yes, Carter was on the radar and already clearly more naturally gifted, with a simply astonishing vision that Jonny lacks, but Carter wouldn't have made the All-Blacks side in 2003 if JW were a Kiwi. And does anyone think England would have won the 2003 World Cup with Paul Grayson at 10?

    And yet we have this huge wave of negativity. Why? Well, there are 3 reasons:

    First, with his lengthy injury lay-offs he came back a shadow of the player who struck fear into the hearts of the opposition. That he was still good enough to claim the England 10 jersey speaks volumes for England in that period. That lesser period is fresher in the memory of casual rugby fans.

    Second, Dan Carter's career has eclipsed his in all ways bar one. But it's a big One!

    Finally, he's English, and the English just love having a pop at their sporting representatives for reasons that baffle me.

  • Comment number 42.

    A true legend that was the backbone of the WC win, with that career points tally and WC contribution will be a while before his true worth really sinks in.

  • Comment number 43.

    An absolute legend, his retirement literally signals the end of an era for English Rugby. I was secretly hoping that he would plug on with the aim of earning 100 caps, but I think it's a tribute to his common sense that he has chosen to go rather than have people doubt his undoubted right to continue playing for England.

    I hope he will still stay involved with English Rugby in some manner...he's be a perfect assistant coach once he announces his retirement!

  • Comment number 44.

    As a Welsh fan, I'd like to think I know a bit about what constitutes a great fly half, and JW had whatever that was in bucketloads. I can't say I'll miss him playing against us - even in the latter stages of his career he was always the person I'd fear the most in the England set up. A wonderful competitor, true professional and outstanding talent - I don't think "role model" even begins to cover it. I wish him a very happy Test retirement.

  • Comment number 45.

    Saying that JW was or wasn't the best fly-half ever surely isn't the issue in this discussion. Sure Dan Carter now is a better player than Jonny...I doubt many would argue that. Is Dan Carter now better than JW in 2003...discuss. Is Dan Carter better than Barry John or Phil Bennett? Who knows?

    The point is that JW is up there with the best, has done it all, has very little to prove (especially to media experts and armchair pundits) and has done England proud. This particular Englishman is very grateful to him!

  • Comment number 46.

    There's a lot of chat that JW is the Geoff Hurst of rugby, but really he's more Bobby Charlton And the only fitting way to acknowledge that is to add him to England's sporting knights Arise Sir Jonny

  • Comment number 47.

    Short memory OldWoodman. In his prime, Wilkinson was an immense distributor and had a cutting edge in attack. I think it's fair to say the injuries took their toll, as if they wouldn't. JW was the standard setter for about 6 years in World Rugby, many aspired to be like him. He was immense and a remains a legend. Thank you Jonny!

  • Comment number 48.

    I had the pleasure in meeting JW before the 2003 World Cup. He was at the Stoop, having just kicked Newcastle to victory and was meeting poeple in the stadium bar after the game.
    You could not meet a more grounded and pleasant individual. Since that day I've always admired and respected this bloke more than any other sportsman.....

  • Comment number 49.

    Being a revisionist historian is not automatically a bad thing, particularly when some of the inital opinion is given with rose-tinted glasses. JW was a brilliant player, and yes, a great of the game. However, applying an objective analysis of certain aspects of his game (i.e. querying whether he was the world's best at certain things) is entirely reasonable. One thing that remained throughout JW's time with England was that they never became an expansive side (and indeed rarely are), and therefore it is right to question some of the more excessive accolades that are being handed out to him.

  • Comment number 50.

    Apart from his natural ability and that gained through hard work, what stood out about Jonny was the fact he is so humble. Most players would be broken by the injuries he suffered and yet you never once, that I can recall, heard him complain or feel especially hard done by. He merely wanted to play rugby and continue to improve as player. You can argue about whether he was good at this or that but with Jonny that is not the point. It is the all-around package.

    He was a good player in all aspects of the game and great in some and brought out improvements in those around him merely by his presence. Ok, he wasn't the best running fly-half ever (though I think that part of his play was slightly underrated), but he often played to a game plan and found gaps for others with his passing.

    All in all, a great player, by all accounts a great person, and quite a rarity in this day and age, an exemplar role model.

  • Comment number 51.

    For me undoubtedly a great of the game for the simple reason that he raised the bar in the game and so few sportsmen do. His dedication and professionalism raised particularly his kicking game to a level not seen in the game before. This and his tackling raised the standards required of nr 10's from his emergence onwards.

    Yes Dan Carter may be a better player than Jonny but part of that is down to Jonny setting new standards in the fly half position that Carter had to emulate and exceed.

  • Comment number 52.

    Jonny Wilkinson-you gave me the happiest moment of my life as a lifelong England fan and sports nut, and for that I thank you deeply. I will never forget standing in front of the TV that grey November morning as the final whistle sounded - I was probably pretty well echoing what you were saying, because I read Will greenwood saying that you were just shouting: "WORLD CUP, WORLD CUP!"

    Watching England play during those golden years from 2000 to 2003 was the one period I can remember feeling confidence before most matches. We played some stonking rugby and, even when we weren't, thanks to JW, you would still find England would be 6 or 9 points ahead on the board. The forwards must have loved you!

    There will be nay-sayers on these threads, but you knew your limitations and put everything into improving, improving, improving. There are so many people today - not just in sport, but in all professions - who could do with using you as their lodestone. Plus you were brilliant at the things you counted as strengths - tackling, kicking, teamwork. And who'll ever forget your try against the All Blacks. You were probably at your peak then and undoubtedly the World No.1 at that time. Put it this way - there is NO team that wouldn't have had you at 10 in those days.

    So take my heartfelt thanks with you for the rest of your career. God bless JW.

  • Comment number 53.

    International rugby has lost a living legend.

    Who bets the RFU ask him to coach England to the 2015 World Cup?

  • Comment number 54.

    right time to go as hes not good enough anymore ,not the greatest at his place but a legend forever,

  • Comment number 55.

    A true legend of the game and an extraordinary career - an incredibly steep rise to the very top, culminating in that awesome moment in the Sydney Telstra stadium 22.11.03, and then the slow decline into injury-fuelled nowehreland only to come back and play inanother world cup final and another RWC 4 yars after that. It took a man of huge dedication and grit even to have the belief that he would come back let alone do it, and claim the 10 jersey back. Johnny, you gave us one of the sweetest moments of our lives on that cold November morning, and I salute you for that, and all the rest, of which there is far too much to mention. Thanks for everything and get the rest and peace of mind you richly deserve.

  • Comment number 56.

    An absolute legend! No doubt about it. At his peak he was amazing. The way he came back from a string of career threatening injuries to play at the 2007 is a testament to his commitment. Good luck to Jonny with the rest of his playing career and beyond.

  • Comment number 57.

    I think Wilkinson deserves a knighthood for the example and dedication that he has showed over the years. To those wondering whether we would have had him instead of Carlos in 2003 - I would rather have had Stephen Donald than Carlos ( who was a brilliant accident waiting to happen ).

    I don't think he's enjoyed the last few months as an international and no doubt he has seen the writing on the wall - both in terms of his own physical capacity and his role in future teams. I hope that he continues enjoying himself in Toulon - he deserves it. And it's good to see people remembering him in his pomp.

    A different player to Dan Carter, who has had his won wobbles now and again but who can make the sort of breaks that JW never could. Let's just say they both stand at or near the pinnacle of their sport and hopefully DC can last long enough to have a crack at the Little Yellow Cup on the field rather than on some sticks up in the stands. As for a role model for DC, I think he probably looked up to Grant Fox more - the original metronome.

  • Comment number 58.

    Yeah Jonny!

    A true English rugby great.

  • Comment number 59.

    Lot's of positive things to say about Wilkinson not least that he always gave his best but a sober reflection of his talents would not put him amongst the best. The comment that he was the best distributor of the ball in world rugby is a very long way from the truth. It's interesting that the qualities that made Wilkinson such a hero to the English are almost the opposite of the qualities required to make your mark in the southern hemisphere. Even the blog spends a long time on his defence but, great as it was, scoring points wins games. Barry John never tackled much but was head and shoulders above Wilkinson.
    Personally, while admiring a great deal about the man himself, as a player he just doesn't do it for me. I want my fly-half to be an offensive weapon. Stand up on the gain line, beat people and launch others into space. Maybe Wilkinson for a brief period could do this (and i missed it) but he has not been capable of this for a very long time and the England team have suffered.
    Season after season we've watched the England back line crab across the pitch for want of anything resembling penetration and without the wit to do much except run into the opposition.
    There is something psychological about the english approach to rugby that denies flair in favour of having a good solid game. Don't forget that this is the country that picked (and even made captain De Granville) in favour of Guscott.

  • Comment number 60.

    @59 :'Even the blog spends a long time on his defence but, great as it was, scoring points wins games.'

    I think you'll find he scored a few points and won a few games by virtue of that.

  • Comment number 61.

    One of the fun parts about retiring 'greats' is comparing them to others, past and present. Barry, John, Michael Lynagh, Dan Carter...where does Jonny fit in this lofty company?

    That he has prompted such emotive comments, many obviously reflecting on his role in 2003, speaks volumes. In his prime, he was the best in his position in the world, no contest. He definitely raised the bar in terms of goal kicking, dedication and defence for a No 10; rugby should be grateful. He will always be an all time great. The best, however? A subject for pub arguments for years to come.

    In comparing him to Dan Carter, he has been surpassed by a man blessed with much greater talent. DC is, for me, probably the best ever. NZ, however, still won the RWC without him. Would England have won in 2003 without JW - I think unlikely.

    Furthermore, I am not sure any single player has given his side the psychological advantage when the opposition see his name on the team sheet than Jonny. How many times have commentators stated that his very presence not only gave his side a lift but left the opposition thinking: "Oh Sh*t, not Jonny Wilkinson"?

    Off the pitch, however, is where he elevates himself into the pantheon of true greatness. In an era where large salaries and media exposure have turned the eye of players arguably more talented, he has kept his head down and maintained his dignity until the end of his international career. Humility and dedication have been the drivers for a man who made the very most of his talents.

    Enjoy the rest of your rugby days, Jonny. You have earned it. Thanks for everything....

  • Comment number 62.

    Firstly I just want to say I am proud to have said that I was 'there for Jonny Wilkinson's career, games I have seen that I will cherish for a lifetime.
    Obviously people will talk about his rugby (being a rugby player I think that's pretty reasonable!), and he did possess one of, if not the, best kicking boots of anyone, past or present. Despite that one drop goal in Sydney in 2003 I don't think i'll mark him on his playing skill (just to put my opinion out there, his kicking was unparalleled, his running wasn't, his distribution was underrated).
    I think that the true legacy of Jonny Wilkinson is what he gave off the field, the commitment shown to training, the lifestyle, everything he did was geared towards making himself a better rugby player. This is a man who had to be told to stop practicing kicking so much because he was wrecking his own knee/groin striving for perfection. What an example to set anyone who aspires to be the best at whatever they want to do.
    One memory that demonstrates his wholehearted commitment to the cause and will, for me, epitomise Jonny Wilkinson's playing career was on the pitch. 6 nations 2011, the Italy game, the clock was showing something like 78 mins, England as you're all aware were about 30 points up. The Italians have a man over (A forward if my memory serves me correct) who goes for the line. Who over that Jonny Wilkinson hurls himself across to stop what would have been a pretty nothing try, certainly not one that would change the game. This is after all those injuries, he was still prepared to put it all on the line for his team, his country.

    To Jonny Wilkinson, a legend of English (if not, surely the world) game, a gentleman, an inspiration. Plenty of professional footballers (and unfortunately now a few rugby players as well) should, take a leaf out of this mans book.

  • Comment number 63.

    When great rugby players are talked about Johnny will be known as one of the best ever, barring injuries he would be head and shoulders above anyone.A widely respected player by the whole rugby world and an absolute credit to his chosen sport and to England. A shame he's chosen to go now as still there is no one better with all respect to Toby Flood who is himself one of the best around. Thank you Johnny you've given so much pleasure to not only rugby fans but sports fans worldwide, and continuing success at Toulon who can still enjoy your fabulous skills' THANK YOU SO MUCH !

  • Comment number 64.

    Ahh, just looked into it and turns out it was only a wing trying to score for Italy, still, commitment of the highest order!

  • Comment number 65.

    Johnny was one my idols growing up. A massively talented individual, a true professional, a proper sportsmen and a gentleman in the the truest sense of the word. The world of rugby union, and indeed the world of sport in general, is a bit less bright without him.

  • Comment number 66.

    One thing about his weaker areas, he spent the better part of 4 years injured during his mid 20's, time he would have spent developing and improving himself as a player was lost.

    I suppose it's a case of what could have been on that front.

  • Comment number 67.

    International rugby that is. Thankfully he will still be at Toulon.

  • Comment number 68.

    To have done so much for the English game despite missing arguably his peak years through injury says it all really. Inspired a generation to take up the game, and was always a consummate professional. Hopefully takes a coaching role with England when he retires from club rugby. Here's a man who could have easily racked up 120+ caps for his country, a true legend of the English, European and World game.

  • Comment number 69.


    ...and yet...and yet...he played about four times as many tests as Barry John and outscored all other Welsh players by a country mile (Neil Jenkins being the exception but he was hardly a sizzling try-scorer either). Whatever "does it for you" it can't be scoring points and winning games.

    Keep you snippiness for another time eh?

  • Comment number 70.


    At his peak he was simply the best player in the world...however too many injuries forced him to limit his style of play hence the sad last few years to his international career.

    And to all those who say that he was never an attacking fly half, take a look at some of the england highlights from 1999-03

    finally just imagine if he had played in that 4 year injury lay off??? we have to be looking at about 1500 points!! something carter would only dream about

  • Comment number 71.

    Thanks Jonny, a legend, a gentleman and someone all our young sports stars should be looking to emulate.

  • Comment number 72.

    Those posters here who question JW's attacking ability are conveniently forgetting that he was at the heart of the most successful tryscoring 5/6N team in history: if you don't believe me, check the stats, including eg Will Greenwood's try per game scoring ratio. Between 1999 and 2002 England scored 5/6N tries for fun only to flounder again and again against more limited, effectively negating opponents at the last. And England popped a fair few points and tries on SH opponents too along the way.

    So Sir CW wised up, got them to play ugly to win and they picked up an RWC as a result - one more than the rest of the NH so far has managed, lest we forget. Was JW a greater player than eg Barry John, Phil Bennett - or even Dan Carter? Not in terms of God-given talent. But in his pomp, he was surely the most influential (and most feared) player in the world. So let's all agree that we've seen the retirement of an outstandingly significant player.

    soupbear @44 above: Bravo - a dignified assessment from one who must have suffered much from JW's deeds over the years!

  • Comment number 73.

    A true sportsman who worked to perfect his game. He never complained about other players, or his injuries.
    Hewas a pleasure to watch. may he have years of play remaining, and continue to entertain.

  • Comment number 74.

    Sorry, folks, @72 above and this should have posted under my name of 'SimonofSurrey'.

    @59 - read my post @72 and you will see that JW was indeed an effective attacking weapon. If, as you say, this all passed you by at the time, you were not the only one. Most of England's opponents felt the same way.

  • Comment number 75.

    All the tributes are spot on and I can't really add any more except remembering his appearance with Jeremy Clarkson and Diana Kroll on the Parkinson Show. I just never stopped laughing.

    Jonny you are a superstar, athlete, gentleman and tremendous role model to everyone.

  • Comment number 76.


    There were 2 players who opponents round the world did not want to see on England's starting 15 - Jonny and Martin. Jonny's presence in particular had a match long influence on his opponents because of his ability to hit penalties from all angles.

  • Comment number 77.

    I remember watching that game – Guinness and Fry up first thing in the morning, a packed Horsham Rugby club, everyone decked in white with the red rose of England going totally bananas as the kick sails over !! You could go a lifetime without ever experiencing those moments - thank you Jonny and all the best in whatever you decide to do. A gentleman, a class act and a true role model.

  • Comment number 78.

    Feeling emotional after reading the various posts and articles. He was worth 10-15 point a game the peak of his powers. The opposition knew what it meant to give away a penalty anywhere from England's 10m line. If there is one sportsman that my partner who is no sports follower knows, its Jonny. Not just for his looks of course but for his humble nature, work ethic and those perfect kicks! For me his tackling cannot be understated. There was a boy at my school who tackled like him and after a while they baned him from playing because he was a denger to himself, I think Jonny was like that, but there is no way you would ban him and glad for England to. Once in a generation player, like Dan Carter. His falibilities and his never give up attitude also seperates him apart from many sportsman even Carter. How many times was he injured? When he stayed down in that tackle against the Aussies time stood still. Then he got up and kicked that kick of his wrong foot. There is a film in the making there. I watched that final in the Udzungwa Mtns National Park Headquarters, Tanzania. I was supposed to be in the bush doing some wildlife research there but by coincidence (not) I 'timed' a short break with the RWC final. Finding a satellite screen was a miracle out there and after paying football loving Tanzanian National Park rangers several beers to switch over we witnesed the greatest rugby for an Eagland fan ever. My and my mate were soon leaping a screaming for joy. We shouted 'go Jonny go!', 'we've won the world cup'! and more. The bemused Tanzanians were saying there's no world cup on. We then had to buy them more beers and try explain rugby and the total brilliance of Jonny, and performed the Jonny conversion kick routine for added effect. When we called him the T. Henry or Ronaldo of English rugby they started to get it. Then we had to turn the channel over for some tedious footy match. But I was smiling and air kicking drop gaols all they way back to the bush.

    Thanks Jonny, and good luck, I now follow Toulon.

  • Comment number 79.

    Jonno and jonny thank you, thank you, thank you. It was a privilege to see you play.

  • Comment number 80.

    I'm not really a rugby fan, the only rugby tournaments I watch is the 6 Nations and the Rugby World Cups. Jonny Wilkinson is the only player name I know in the whole of rugby and I still got memories of that moment he did the drop kick to win the 2003 World Cup. He is a legend!

  • Comment number 81.

    Has there ever been a more rounded and grounded professional ?
    Adored by the ladies, admired by his fellow pros and just a different class to everyone else.
    Has this guy ever been carded, sulked, given less than 100% ?

    Delighted to see he has also shunned the OK,Hello,Sun,Mirror brigade and stayed loyal to his real friends

    J will never be replaced God bless you !!!

  • Comment number 82.



    Yes guys, ring up for either Jonny or Amir.

    They are my favourite sports and I'm hoping these two guys will be honoured on the night.

    But I rather suspect some clowns from minority sports will get it ???

    Cricket?. . .that's not sports, its for retired old codgers in village greens on Sunday afternoons. . forget it !!

    Cyclists. . .come off it mate, that's not sports. . .riding a push bike???, you must be joking !!

    Footie . . .err err. . .next, please !!

    Swimming. . .only if the ladies were there, then I'd have recommended Adlington.

    F1. . . I like this, but they didn't win the championship.

    Snooker. . . O'Sullivan is a good player but hasn't got the charisma that Davies, White, Higgins had; and spoils it by moaning too much.

    Golf. . .there's a pretender in there by the name of Donald. Apparently he accumulated a lot of dosh over the year and became World No1; other than that, no Majors to boast about apparently. . .come and see us again Mr Duck after you've won some big trophies.

    And finally : Mud-wrestling. . . I take Cameron to win on points from Clegg !!


  • Comment number 83.

    Truly the end of an era. English rugby will struggle to replace the unreplacable.

    Thanks for the memories Jonny - no one who witnessed that drop goal against Australia in RWC 2003 will ever forget it!

  • Comment number 84.

    There is no doubt he was a class act on and off the field, however I cant help thinking that his reputation was enhanced by the games he missed.

    He was a solid part of the world cup winning side, but certainly not the key to it. It was the England pack that won the world cup.

    His defensive game was second to none - indeed it could be argued that he changed the expectations for his position, however I don't think he ever fully answered the question marks about his game management or attacking play.

    Top class international, and top bloke, but for me not up there with the likes of Barry John, Lynagh and Carter as the all time great 10s

  • Comment number 85.

    When I began watching rugby it coincided with the start of Jonny Wilkinson's international career in 1998. I didn't have a clue about it but I could see he was a special player. He had an aura about him, which even as a total non-rugby person I could see. Two years ago I saw him play for the first time in the flesh for Toulon against Montpellier. When I got to the stadium, one hour early the video screen was on in the bar and Jonny was out practising his routine. So I rushed out to watch him, excited like a small child. It was amazing to watch, the sheer dedication, calmness and accuracy. I kept my eye on him rather than the match throughout the game, and he spent his time marshalling the defence, anticipating where the next break was coming from. He was the hardest working player on the pitch by a mile. The match was very close, Toulon were hanging on to the lead with a few minutes to go and they substituted Jonny. I thought, bad move, they are going to lose this one now. And sure enough Montpellier won with a last gasp try in the corner. I am absolutely certain with Wilko on the pitch the try would not have been scored. This is my personal memory of Jonny Wilkinson. A true great and inspiration. He made the difference in so many ways. And let's not forget he's still playing so I urge you all to get over to see him play for Toulon!

  • Comment number 86.

    Surely, along with Geoff Hurst and Ian Botham, Jonny Wilkinson should be remembered as one of English sport's greatest ever matchwinners?

  • Comment number 87.

    Legend, Champion, History.

  • Comment number 88.

    One of the greats!

    Lacking flair? Non-expansive game? Nonsense. At England's peak between 2001 and 2003, they were running in tries from all over the park. JW might not have scored many himself, but Robinson, Cohen, Greenwood, Lewsey, Balshaw etc were scoring tries for fun. And who was directing the traffic from the fly-half? That's right, Jonny!

    A great player, and a top bloke. Thanks for the memories!

  • Comment number 89.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Jonny Wilkinson in November when he was at Twickenham doing a book signing. I queued for over 6 hours - there isn't another person I'd do that for. In the queue we had been asked to write on a postit what we wanted him to write, I had just put 'best wishes'. It took him about a second to decide that wasn't enough and he wrote 3 lines, chatted, albeit briefly and posed for a picture - all this at half past midnight.

    I had wanted to thank him, personally, for everything he had done for Newcastle, Toulon and of course England, unfortunately I was a little too overwhelmed to speak! Instead he thanked me for waiting in the cold and for the support that he had received from fans throughout his career!

    That night he spent a little bit of quality time with everyone who had turned up and it served to underline to the greatness of the man.

    Jonny was and is a great rugby player - professional, dedicated, inspirational - and more importantly a great person and role model.

    And I can say here what I sadly couldn't say when I met him - Thank You!

  • Comment number 90.

    Jonny was the best my generation has ever seen in a white jersey.

    He suffered from those who made him play when he should have taken a year away from the game after 2003, or played less intensely, like some others did. He was a marketing dream and they ruined him, he was never allowed to fully recover and we lost a good 3 years of England's best EVER player.

  • Comment number 91.

    Jonny Wilkinson is quite simply one of the best players to pull on an England jersey. No ifs buts or maybes about it. People trying to denounce him because he played in a good side in 2003 are very odd.

    If you could get statistics on such a thing, I wonder how many matches were won in the changing room simply because the opposition knew he was playing. He changed the way fly halves have to play with his immense tackling (rather letting the 7 do it) and his ability with the ball in hand.

    He was also deceptively quick, okay he wasn't lightning fast, but he made a fair few breaks in his time. His kicking though was metronomic. I think during the golden years 2000-2003 he averaged over 90% for kicking success and he was the reason we won most games.

    Jealousy and bitterness always creep in to these things when someone is so successful. But to be honest he was quite simply brilliant at what he did.

  • Comment number 92.

    To be honest, What has Jonny Wilkinson ever done. Just like Guscott, Jonny will always be remembered for 1 drop goal... Jigsaw Jonny they should call him because he always ended up in more pieces than a jigsaw. Jonny would be lucky if he managed to get into a Welsh 2nds XV and then he'd probably be on the bench. Jonny was made of porcelain and he's best kept away with the other relics and only brought out when the dignitaries turn up.

  • Comment number 93.

    Amazing player and genuinely nice man, not half as serious and intense as he's made out to be either. I was fortunate enough to work with him this year in a media capacity and he stood out from the rest of the England Rugby boys in every way. Very sad to see him go.

    As for those who question his legacy in the game, just daft...and by the looks of things, massively jealous and bitter.

  • Comment number 94.

    @ 92: Seriously? Did you read the blog? Have you ever watched rugby?
    Obviously not.

    I dont even feel your comment needs a proper response. But put simply:

    13 years of international rugby. 91 Caps. 1,246 international points. 4 World Cups............I could go on. But of course, 1 drop goal is all he ever REALLY did.....
    (If Wales had JW in their team they would have beat SA and France, JW wouldnt have bottled the drop goal attempt like Jones did.)

  • Comment number 95.

    92 Celtic_warrior

    C'mon mate what a daft post.

    Jonny W was an absolute legend and would have walked into any Welsh side,well, certainly of his generation. He was the ultimate professional and a great role model to kids and other athletes. And to say he was made of porcelain is nonsense too, some of the hits i've witnessed him make and take suggest to me the guy was made of steel more likely!

    Leave the guy alone, He's a true Legend of the game and someone the game will sorely miss.

  • Comment number 96.

    @94: Yes I watch & I've played, coached & reffed rugby. I'm only trying to balance up the comments on here & if you're sad enough to sit down for however long to come up with blah blah blah stats then you'd realise that anyone other than English rugby supporters will only remember Jonny for ONE (1) DROP GOAL !!!!

  • Comment number 97.

    Can't see what post 96 says at the moment. In the past few weeks we have seen two legends bow out of the international scene. Wilkinson and Williams. Both deserve all the credit they get. Haven't heard one Englishman doubt Williams, shame some Welsh cant see past the Red Rose to the true quality of Wilkinson!

  • Comment number 98.

    @96: It took me all of 2 seconds to come up with those stats......

    I think the comments have been fair. He was excellent with the boot. very good at passing. Nothing overly special at running. Bit to be desired in game management, but in executing a plan top notch. His tackling that of a back rower. His work rate second to none. And a prime example of professionalism. What is unbalanced about that?

    Ask a Frenchman, Aussie or even a Scott if the drop goal is the thing they remeber JW for. Your comments seriosuly put into doubt your understanding of rugby. 1,246 points, and only 3 of them memorable? I guess the rest must have be scored against minows?

  • Comment number 99.

    That last paragraph of 98 should start: "Ask a Frenchman, Aussie or even a Scott if the drop goal is the ONLY thing they remeber JW for."

  • Comment number 100.

    Thanks for the good times Jonny, you would have played in any international team, one of the best.


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