x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jonny Wilkinson turns away from a changed game

Jonny Wilkinson has decided to hang up his boots, perhaps a little too late, but also because rugby is not the game he remembers.

Jonny Wilkinson leaves England Rugby at a time when the national team and organisation are in turmoil.
Jonny Wilkinson leaves England Rugby at a time when the national team and organisation are in turmoil.

 

It felt like the end had been coming for years, more or less since he slotted that World Cup-winning drop goal. But Jonny Wilkinson kept hanging on, just for one more go, just so it could hurt a little more.

At his 2003 zenith, the England fly-half was unquestionably a great. One commentator at around that time predicted that, so good was he, people would still be talking about him in 100 years time.

Perhaps they will, if man is still alive, and there is still such a thing as rugby. But he will be thought of in a rather less luminous light than he might have been had his body not been so ravaged in the second half of his career.

The ending could not have been less fitting. He made his exit while English rugby is in turmoil, its integrity riven by politics at boardroom level and a disunited playing squad. No wonder he wanted out. The leaked report divulging what the players thought of each other at the World Cup must have made him cringe.

It would be understandable if it was Wilkinson who quoted an unnamed player as saying "that's 35k down the toilet" following England's loss to France, referring to lost win bonuses. England's most marketable celebrity rugby player was always the one who courted it the least.

Wilkinson's retirement means England have lost one player who was guaranteed to keep his eye on the ball. Not just a model professional, as Sir Clive Woodward said this week, but a model model.

 

pradley@thenational.ae