By Howard Clements
There are not many in the United Kingdom that can place themselves in the category of “national sporting hero.” We may think of people such as: Sir Chris Hoy, Bobby Moore, Mo Farah, Sir Steve Redgrave and David Beckham. All of whom are valid contenders to this prestigious title and a place on the Temple of Worthies. However, it is one name that sticks in my head; certainly from me growing up through my teenage years respecting and adoring the man, Jonny Wilkinson.
Wilkinson may seem all but a distant memory for those who only recall the Rugby World Cup of 2003; the competition that he so famously won for England. Jonny Wilkinson’s playing career spanned from 1997 to 2014. He played 138 games for the Newcastle Falcons, spanning from 1997 to 2008. A period ravaged with injury for the former England fly half. Wilkinson felt the need to separate from what seemed like a negative cycle of injury at Newcastle, for a fresh challenge in France with the team Toulon.
Fluent in French, Jonny forged a successful career over the Channel. Wilkinson bowed out of the game, rightfully so, on the back of a Heineken Cup championship victory for the big spending French side. The perfect send off for any legend of the game. Wilkinson ended his career with a staggering 1179 points for his country, England, second to only Dan Carter of New Zeeland in the international world rankings.
Wilkinson endured a relatively frustrating career. Injuries were often holding him back, with records destined to be broken while he was delivering excellent performances in league rugby when injury free. Jonny but for his injuries that plagued his career, would have been top of all international scoring charts, no doubt.
However, if this factor of “what could have been” is put behind us, we can examine what makes Jonny Wilkinson a living legend for England. Firstly, it is essential that we consider his work and effort for the game. Former England World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson praises Wilkinson’s work ethic and dedication, to turn him into a world class rugby player. He was not the biggest or the fastest, but his desire separated him from anyone else in this field.
One of the key reasons behind Wilkinson’s importance as an English legend is the impact he had on the sport. Before 2003, many had not considered rugby as important. Wilkinson managed to capture the imaginations of the people of England through his consistent performances and impeccable kicking. Jonny revolutionised the game of rugby in the UK; with more people were taking notice of the game, kids getting involved and people were taking an active interest in how the game can be progressed.
The superstars of rugby such as Dan Carter and New Zeeland captain, Richie McCaw pay homage to Wilkinson, stating that he could have played for longer, praising his work ethic and hailing him as one of the all time greats in rugby. This is praise from the highest echelons of world rugby. In world sport, England has few names that penetrate the international world elite of sportsmen. Jonny Wilkinson however, is the exemption to this. He won the most prestigious award in the game for his country and displayed class, work ethic and determination throughout his career; ingredients that separate him from the world class, to national hero. I echo the sentiments of the Toulon fan in the Guinness advert, merci, Sir Jonny!