31 Jan 2011

Jonny Wilkinson, a modest sports hero

Jonny Wilkinson is one of the best fly-halves ever to have graced rugby fields at the highest level. One may find Dan Carter (or others) superior, especially now, but there is no denying his talent, his achievements and his determination to come back to the highest level after several years of long injuries and short come-backs that would have made most people just pack in all in.

Having won the World Cup with England in 2003 (and actually creating the final victory in that cliff-hanger of a finish with a drop-goal in the last minute of the game against Australia), his career went through a long rocky spell, largely due to injuries, and maybe partly on account of his admirable fidelity to his long-standing club, Newcastle, although he probably could have made a mint by accepting other offers. Although he played for England through most of the next World Cup in 2007, and helped the team to another final (lost against South Africa) with his precision kicking and courageous defense, his place as undisputed fly-half in the national team has become more and more tenuous, to the point where he is now, at best, only number 2. Yet he is now back in the England squad for the coming 6 nations European tournament, and we will see how he fares.

What Wilkinson has done to restart his career has been to move from northern England to Southern France, where, for the past 2 seasons, he has played extremely well and consistently for Toulon (see photo above), sometimes holding the team together, scoring tons of points with the boot (540 to date, which is an average of over 13 per game played), and always giving his best in defense and in attack. It has been his performances with Toulon at the highest level, including in the European cup for clubs where they recently beat Munster, one of the terror teams in that competition, that have regained him his place in the English squad, despite the general ruling to exclude those players living and playing outside England from the national selection. 

I do not know the man, but was very interested to read an  excellent and longish interview with him recently in the French sports daily, L'Equipe, conducted by Arnaud Requenna. In this interview he comes across as a very modest person, perfectionnist and self-effacing, for whom stardom must have been quite hard to handle. His bravery on the field is as legendary as his skill. I particularly like this quote from the interview:

"Rugby is a bit like a miniature version of life. In life, as I have read, if you want to succeed in something, the best way is to help others to achieve their objectives."

Wilkinson is a Buddhist (as I have read). He also speaks French remarkably well. 
Now here's one for the girls...

Go Jonny, go .....and be good!