After 17 years, Jonny Wilkinson will finally bring down the curtain a hugely successful career that saw him revered as a global icon of the game
Jonny Wilkinson today, in typically understated fashion, officially notified the rugby world that he was to hang up the boots that struck 1246 glorious points on the international stage at the end of the season.
Wilkinson, ever the reluctant hero, released the news through his club Toulon – only the second of a 17-year career – with polite, heartfelt thanks to those who have supported him. “It goes without saying that I have an enormous number of people to thank for their support from all around the world but especially here in France and in England.”
He was quick to follow this up with a nod to two defining games of Toulon’s season, a Heineken Cup and Top 14 Final. “This however is not at all the time to be concentrating on this as I would like to focus all my attention and energy on the team and these final two games of the season. I sincerely thank you all for everything you have given me and for making these last seventeen years something I will never forget.”
The sentiment was clearly, it’s back to business and winning silverware for the Stade Mayol faithful who have taken him to their hearts. Wilkinson will celebrate his 35th birthday in a matter of days and a future in coaching surely beckons, if he wants it. The quiet man from Frimley can look back on a stellar career full of achievement; 91 caps, six Lions caps, two World Cup finals, four Six Nations titles and a Grand Slam. Domestically, after some barren years at Newcastle Falcons he kickstarted Toulon’s ascent to the pinnacle of domestic rugby and went on to win a Heineken Cup, reach two Amlin Challenge Cup Finals and a week on Saturday he hopes to add a Top 14 title to his bulging Trophy cabinet.
Despite all this subsequent success, it is of course the 2003 Rugby World Cup which was his defining moment as he sent a nation into giddy hysteria out in Sydney with a drop goal in the final minute of extra time. He returned from Australia public property, a fact he openly struggled with. Wilkinson will also be remembered for his indefatigable spirt and refusal to buckle under relentless injuries that blighted four peak years of his career. Many lesser men would have thrown the towel in, but not Jonny. He became a beacon, not only for achieving great success but for courage, humility and embodying the game’s values of respect and modesty.
Perhaps the highest compliment you can give him is that he transcended the tribal borders of the international game. Over the years, countless players and fans, whatever their nationality, have cited him as their role model and there can be no greater praise.