Earlier last week one of the all-time greats – Jonny Wilkinson – announced that he will retire at the end of the current season. The 34-year-old will end his glorious career in May, hunting for glory in both the French Top 14 and the Heineken Cup with Toulon.
Jonny Wilkinson was England’s talisman for over a decade and will forever be remembered for his winning drop goal with the Red Rose in the 2003 World Cup Final versus Australia. On top of that World Cup triumph, he has won the English Premiership, a Grand Slam, the Heineken Cup and a host of Triple Crowns as well as touring with the British and Irish Lions twice. He also set numerous records with his excellent kicking both from penalties and from drop goals, including the all-time top points-scorer in both the Six Nations Championship and the Rugby World Cup.
Wilkinson made his England debut versus Ireland in the 1998 Five Nations and became the driving force for Clive Woodward’s team as they captured both the Grand Slam and the World Cup in 2003. Plying his day-to-day trade with the Newcastle Falcons, Wilkinson won the Premiership in his first season and added two Anglo-Welsh Cups during his 12 years at Kingston Park. Anyone who has read his excellent autobiography – Jonny – will know that Wilkinson is an incredibly complex sportsman whose search for perfection with his place-kicking has provided him with more pain than happiness.
A shy and retiring figure throughout his 17 years as a professional, Wilkinson never sought the limelight as he revolutionised the number 10 role at both club and international level by bringing the sort of physicality normally associated with a number 8. He never put himself ahead of the team and paid the price for his hard-hitting tackles by picking up some serious injuries which threatened to finish his career. His shoulders, knees, arms and kidneys have all been badly damaged and so much punishment would have broken a lesser man. But not Wilkinson.
In May 2009 he announced his decision to swap the damp, dreary weather of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the beaches of sunny Toulon in the French Top 14. The move reignited his love for the game and over the past five seasons has played some of his finest rugby. His decision to retire from the international stage in 2011 was made with the intention of prolonging his club career and it was vindicated last season when Wilkinson kicked all the points in Toulon’s narrow 16-15 victory over Clermont in the Heineken Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium.
It seems rather fitting that this year’s Heineken Cup quarter-final has put Wilkinson on a collision course with another retiring legend – Brian O’Driscoll – as Toulon clash with Leinster in a mouth-watering tie. The two first became friends on the 2001 Lions tour to Australia and have both gone on to achieve great things. Wilkinson is probably the only rival to O’Driscoll as the Northern Hemisphere’s greatest player of modern times, and while O’Driscoll may received a fairytale ending to his career with Ireland, it may well be Wilkinson who gets the shot to ride off into the sunset with another Heineken Cup medal in his back pocket.
Adam Davern, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Léna (Self-photographed) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.